A recent Herald article, titled "Be Happy," offered a sadly shortsighted view on the subject. The article espouses that if we stop complaining, focus on the positive, give time and money to others, get moving, savor life's simple things, we can find happiness. In the short term, maybe, however, the low happiness level of Americans bubbles from a far deeper source.
The U.N. "World Happiness" report, issued earlier this year, reveals that government policies directly affect a nation's level of happiness. Further, the study notes that in the U.S., "uncertainties and anxieties are high, social and economic inequalities have widened considerably, social trust is in decline, and confidence in government is at an all-time low. Perhaps for these reasons, life satisfaction has remained nearly constant during decades of rising Gross National Product per capita."
While the U.S. GDP per capita rose by a factor of three since 1960, our happiness level remained stagnant. In Denmark, where taxpayers pay one of the highest tax rates in the world, and have a national health care system as well, their citizens are the happiest. The U.S., among the lowest taxed citizens, with a quasi, infant, national health care system under attack, ranks 11th.
Finland's excellence in education, ranked near top in international comparisons, has achieved this fostering a spirit of community and equality in the schools. In sharp contrast, the education reform strategy at work in the U.S. emphasizes testing, measurement and teacher pay according to student test performance.
In the U.S., the gap between the rich and poor accelerates as the middle class disappears.
Wealth, health and education are the three defining markers of happiness. Before voting this fall, it would be wise to carefully, read "The World Happiness Report," available in PDF form on the Internet.