The Daily Parker

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The cargo cult of happiness

Writing in the current Atlantic, Joe Pinsker points out that emulating the pastimes of happy cultures won't actually create a happy culture:

With the release of each [World Happiness] report, which is published by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, the question is not which country will appear at the top of the rankings, but rather which Northern European country will. Finland has been the world’s happiest country for four years running; Denmark and Norway hold all but one of the other titles (which went to Switzerland in 2015).

The rankings are reliably discouraging for Americans, who have never cracked the global top 10. We are merely in the upper middle class of happiness—respectable, but underwhelming for a country with our level of wealth and self-regard.

Taking forest walks and foraging for berries do sound delightful, but a focus on activities and habits reduces entire cultures to individual lifestyle trends and obscures the structural forces that make people satisfied with their lives. No quantity of blankets or candles is going to make up for living in an unequal society with a weak social safety net. The folly of fixating on local customs becomes even clearer if you consider the poverty and violence that are common at the bottom of the rankings: No lifestyle blogger is studying Afghanistan, the least happy country in this year’s report, and recommending that readers avoid Afghan pastimes and customs such as flying kites and going to communal bathhouses.

Of course, we Americans have always tried to create happiness from fantasy, so perhaps missing the entire point of the World Happiness Report comes as naturally to us as a trip to Disneyland. I, personally, would experience more happiness if the United States had universal healthcare and more American cities had fast, frequent, and reliable public transit, but hey, I have nothing against your favorite professional sports team getting more points than the other teams they play.

The UN has made the World Happiness Report 2023 available free online, just in case you want to see which 14 countries ranked higher than the US in this year's report. Only one of them is an active war zone right now.

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