Just Think How Happy They’d Be if the Weather Were Better….

Or maybe not. I had a Canadian colleague who insisted that cold weather encourages development of social cooperation and interdependence, and that’s why places like Canada develop better social safety nets.

Recently, Denmark–a cold country with high taxes and one of those “socialist, nanny-state” governments– was ranked the happiest nation on earth.

Of course, being prosperous (not to mention healthy and virtuous) didn’t hurt.

The six factors for a happy nation split evenly between concerns on a government- and on a human-scale. The happiest countries have in common a large GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy at birth and a lack of corruption in leadership. But also essential were three things over which individual citizens have a bit more control: A sense of social support, freedom to make life choices and a culture of generosity.

There’s a fair amount of evidence that strong social safety nets correlate with socially healthier societies–less gun violence, lower divorce rates, less discord, etc. (In all fairness, there’s also evidence suggesting that feelings of mutual obligation/collective responsibility also correlate with high levels of homogeneity. It’s easier to care about the elderly when they all look like grandma…)

The report notes that Danes have “a sense of stewardship” and are massively engaged in political and civil life. During the last election, in 2011,  87.7 voted. Over 40% volunteer in NGOs, social and political organizations, etc.

Denmark may not be everyone’s idea of the ideal society, but life there sure beats the “vision” espoused by Paul Ryan and the Tea Party–a dog eat dog society in which the privileged deny any obligation to the less fortunate, where basic health care is a consumer good available to those who can afford it, and social security is “charity.”

And if we’re talking about happiness, folks in states like Mississippi and Texas–where Tea Party principles are the order of the day and efforts to create a “culture of generosity” would bring catcalls and derision– don’t look all that happy to me.


  1. I grew up with a “strong social safety-net”; it was called a neighborhod and was filled with neighbors who watched out for one another on all levels. These neighbors were not only the extended families who remained in the same area for generations; they included all churches, schools, area businesses and trusted police officers who often lived in the neighborhood. There were all levels of income families. Neighborhoods were not without their problems such as racism, bigotry and the few who stayed to themselves. Government services were not as necessary till busing for racial balance, “white flight”, and the current trancient, mobilized society gained a foothold. Pride in our neighborhoods seems to be a thing of the past (evidenced by approximately 10,000 abandoned buildings) because neighbors are primariy strangers. I have tried greeting new neighbors but was met with indifference; I also tried introducing myself to neighbors when I moved back to Indianapolis from Florida and was met with the same attitude with 2 or 3 exceptions. Being totally deaf is isolating in itself; I rarely ask for assistance except for making an occasional phone call. I am not looking for a “keeper”; nor do I want to get involved in the lives of others or have them involved in mine, I am looking for a friendly face, a shared conversation over coffee or iced tea. This is not available in either neighborhood I lived in here since 2011: the government cannot be expected to provide coffee klatches for stay-at-home residents. The NEED for both working partners just to survive and “big box stores” have given us a convenience of sorts but taken away neighborhoods and the “strong social safety-net” that used to provide so much support and safety. Neighborhoods are more racially balanced but people are further apart and are strangers who feel no trust in those they do not know and make no attempt to know. This is 21st Century lifestyle; the “good old days” are gone forever along with the caring and sharing that supported that “strong safety-net” which too many now look to government to provide. Yes, I am an old woman looking into the past and the sense of belonging it provided; I am also an intelligent woman who is aware of what this country has become through the years…some good and some bad and some necessary. Who are your neighbors? Do you know or care?

  2. It’s interesting how people tend to take the bits and pieces from a world view and adopt it wholesale, thinking that what they agree with represents that worldview. I’m specifically thinking about Ayn Rand the person and the philosophy she advocated, and how in the end she was just a hypocrite and a controlling monster who ruined her own life as well as the lives around her. Many well-known and highly respected thinkers were familiar with Rand as well as her ideas and came away horrified by what they saw. Albert Ellis, the founder of Rational Emotive Therapy (the beginning of the cognitive behavioral therapy movement which occupies most of current clinical psychology), described her thinking as “extremist, fanatical, dogmatic, high-flown moralistic and irrational”, and that was just for starters. He wrote an entire book filled with details supporting his opinions. (It’s not like some of the stuff where people irresponsibly name-call and walk away, expecting people to swallow it.) What a disappointment that Paul Ryan has bought her package, and continues with it despite the clear and historic warnings of the well-known and respected critics and Catholic religious who pull no punches when it comes to Rand, calling things what they are. It doesn’t take much reading to understand how twisted that world view is and where adopting it will take you in the end.

  3. I only read half of one of Ayn Rand’s books, “The Virtue of Selfishness” and agreed with one statement – half way. Her assumption that it is not selfish to take care of yourself first; this enables you to take care of others. In some cases that holds true; such as the instructions by flight attenedants in case of emergency when the oxygen masks drop – put on your own mask first so you can take care of your child or a person unable to accomplish this. But; how much time do we spend on planes? We needed then and need now, common sense recommendations. I also read Albert Ellis during those years of self-examination/self-help books along with many others popular at the time. One statement stood out at the time and stays with me today; it was a quote from an Alan Watts book stating, “Man is going to computerize himself out of existence.” Well; here we are with computers putting hundreds of thousands out of work and computers guiding weapons of war but – thanks to the creators of HealthCare.gov screwups, thousands cannot access the site to enroll in necessary insurance coverage. Of course; one can always pick up the phone to do this but it takes less energy and thought to use a computer so many will wait…impatiently and blame President Obama. This was supposed to be one of those “social safety-nets”; making it quick and easy for those who need it to get information and registration access. Any and all involed in its creation and activation should have checked and rechecked till positive, beyond all reasonable doubt, that it worked. I still question the possibiity of sabatoge in this case.

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