We Americans are an unhappy people – at least in relation to the greatness, affluence and freedom of this country.
Based on the recently released World Happiness Report for 2018, America ranks 18th in our citizen contentment, out of 159 countries. Not horrible; we broke the top 20 in the rankings compiled for United Nations using Gallup poll data and other factors developed by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network. But at least one compiler of the report remarked how surprising it is that a free democracy like America with such a high standard of living isn’t in the top 10. In fact, we’ve not been in the top 10 since the Happiness scale was first published in 2012.
There is disappointment that U.S. citizens aren’t happier. It would be like finding out Alabama Crimson Tide fans are only fake cheering during football season.
If the results are to be believed, the Nordic countries must be doing something right as the number one happiest place this year was Finland. In the past few years it was Denmark, Switzerland and Norway at the top spot. Who’d have thought countries that are so cold are so happy?
The happiest nations, a virtual list of Nordic nations plus a few friends (Netherlands, New Zealand, Canada and Australia), may change positions but no country has joined or been knocked out of the top 10 in the past three years.
In the rankings, the U.S. comes right behind Luxembourg and ahead of the UK. We barely beat the United Arab Emirates, France and Mexico.
We significantly beat Russia at their 59th spot and we creamed Bhutan, a country that strives for happiness, but only ranks 97th. China was 86th, but as their economy surges, they have found that money does lead to improvement in happiness rankings over previous years.
No surprise that the poverty and violence filled nations in Africa (Burundi, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Tanzania) are at the bottom.
Income levels, social support, life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity and corruption levels are cited as the keys to a happy nation by compilers of the report.
In the polls, respondents around the globe are asked to imagine a ladder and out of 10 steps are you fist-pumping the sweet life at the top or scared, hungry and crying in the cellar?
The U.S. respondents for the past several years have been somewhere between the 6th and 7th step. In the latest rankings (2015-2017) we were on step 6.88 with Finland on step 7.63 at the top and Burundi only climbing up 2.9 steps.
Impediments to American happiness include obesity/health issues, the opioid crisis and widespread depression, according to Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of The Center for Sustainable Development at The Earth Institute, Columbia University, who supplied supplemental information.
In an interview, Sachs told the New York Times that even though incomes as a whole are rising, the results indicate the average American is under more stress than people in the happier nations.
One observation we’d add: Perhaps Americans don’t consider themselves happy because we are jaded by all that we do have. Look around, there is relative safety, the opportunity to succeed in many different fields and a very comfortable way of life for most. You can imagine if some poor fellow from Burundi were to be relocated here with any average job, they might tell pollsters they were on step 11 of the 10 step criteria. A Jasper resident from a poorer nation once told us in an interview he considers his convenience store “paradise.”
Our dissatisfaction may also come from the celebrity-worshiping cult in America. Even the most grounded middle-class life looks dull compared to the constant images of beautiful people doing exciting things filling television and social media.
As the aforementioned Ms. Sachs noted, America’s problems are not economic ones, they are social ones.