Here’s some good news: we Americans are officially happier than the French.
A recent report that measures happiness says the U.S.A. ranks well above France with all its existentialism, ennui, and heavy smoking.
But the Parisians have a dark side, so maybe that’s not a fair comparison. Well, how do we compare to the rest of the industrialized world? To be honest, not so great.
For the fifth year in a row, Finland is the world’s happiest country. In fact, if you want to be giddy, move to Scandinavia, because Finland “and its neighbors Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Iceland all score very well on the measures the report uses” to gauge happiness.
The criteria include “healthy life expectancy, GDP per capita, social support in times of trouble, low corruption and high social trust, generosity in a community where people look after each other and freedom to make key life decisions.”
Oddly, the survey doesn’t include stats such “most billionaires” or “biggest military.” It’s almost like the standards we use to proclaim that America is “the greatest country in the world” are irrelevant to whether or not our citizens actually enjoy their lives.
OK, you might dismiss this report as another left-leaning hit job that tries to convince Americans that social democracy is a better political system than the hyper-capitalist plutocracy that the United States clings to.
Well, don’t take this report’s word for it. Instead, look at polls that show nearly 80 percent of Americans “are dissatisfied with the country’s direction.” Other surveys reveal that Americans have “an alarming degree of skepticism about democracy and openness to political violence.”
Over the last few years, Americans have displayed increased “signs of alienation,” as both alcohol abuse and drug overdoses have skyrocketed. Experts say that “a wide range of behavior has deteriorated,” obvious when one considers that “Americans’ blood pressure is up, and measures of mental health are down.
And note that the pandemic not only caused more deaths here than in other industrialized nations; it exacerbated cultural divisions and “killed the dream of middle-class homeownership.” In today’s America, political discourse has become more toxic, vehicle crashes have surged, and even beloved celebrities are freaking out and slapping each other on live TV.
I mean… damn.
No one can deny that “this country’s recent dysfunction [is] a dark new form of American exceptionalism.” People in other nations—including those perpetually smiling Scandinavians—are mystified as to why Americans “are at their breaking points.”
Why don’t we have strong community bonds, a modicum of faith in our institutions, and respect for democracy, like they do? Why does the United States have “a much higher rate of child poverty than most other affluent countries”—a rate that is higher than even some poor countries? Why do we have more gun violence, by far, than any other industrialized nation?
Those are all good questions, my Finnish friend. You tell us.
However, there is one bright spot in this morass of American negativity. But if you’re xenophobic, well, you’re not going to like it.
You see, immigrants may be the answer to our American dystopia. As we all know, immigrants have lower rates of crime and higher rates of entrepreneurship. They have rescued small rural towns from oblivion and saved countless lives during the pandemic. They display a level of patriotism that puts native-born Americans to shame.
Immigrants also help offset America’s declining birth rates. This might not sound like a big deal until you realize that “there are numerous economic implications that come with a shrinking population, especially a shrinking working-age population.” Immigration gives the United States “a big advantage if it chooses to fully use it,” especially when going head-to-head with our biggest international competitor, China, which also has an aging population but few immigrants.
So, once again, it may be immigrants who save this country. This possibility is almost enough to make you happy—certainly not as happy as the Dutch, the Australians, or the Costa Ricans. But it’s a start.
Featured image: From left, the flags of Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark (User:Hansjorn/CC BY-SA 3.0)