Each year the OEDC publishes a study which examines the average level of happiness amongst citizens of various countries. They measure 11 key data points" "housing, income, jobs, community, education, environment, governance, health, life satisfaction, safety and work-life balance".
The results are surprising and revealing. One might expect the US. to do well yet we don't even place in the top ten. Denmark wins almost every year. Lots of reasons for this are obvious; the state is well-run, equitable, with good work life balance and a high standard of living. But the big secret may lie in how they view the Future -- they have low expectations and therefore are usually pleasantly surprised how well things turn out.
Hans Rosling's astonishing video below tells most of the story as quickly as possible. Broadly, it makes sense that table-stakes for Happiness are health and wealth. But there's more to it than that.
It's interesting to look at how happiness is destributed in the US. Some folks have made lists of the Happiest and Saddest Cities in America. Shockingly - Washington DC is the happiest large city. Is that because they're pessimistic? Smug? Confident? Rich?
There do seem to be various demographic factors that figure into how contented we are. Gallup conducted a poll of 1000 Americans in 2010 and based on the findings, describes the archetype of the "Happiest American". This person would be "a male, Asian-American, a religious Jew, self-employed, living in Hawaii, married, has children, receiving a household income of at least $120,000" -- The Times wrote a profile of this fictional citizen who they dubbed "Moishe Chang (or sometimes Deng Xiao Shapiro)"
Living in Princeton, New Jersey and commuting to New York, I take a lot of cabs and I always talk to the drivers. Most drivers have emigrated from other countries to the US. and I love hearing their stories - finding out why they wanted to come here, what life was like before and how they like living here. What I generally learn is encouraging - they either won green card lotteries or made huge sacrifices to be here and often work 90 hour weeks. They think the schools are good. Often I'm listening to them late at night, looking out on the smoke-belching refineries of Newark and wondering how they stay so upbeat.
It seems to be two things. First, things ARE better here than where they started. Secondly, they don't suffer from the sense of entitlement and greed that's become the American ethos. When I probe, they all say the same thing - "In America, if you try, you can make it. You have a chance". And without being schmaltzy, I think there's something there -- we've forgotten that we're not promised Happiness - just the freedom to Pursue it.
As we head into tomorrow, I'll leave you with this treat; a site from the OECD that allows you to rate how important various things are to you and shows how your ratings match against people from OECD countries.
So keep your expectations low and your hopes high. And enjoy the pursuit.