Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Happiness Is...

As a programmer I often become embroiled in complex, sometimes passionate discussions about the best way to solve a problem. As a blogger and frequent contributor to online political forums, I frequently see others engaging in heated debate, complex rationalizations, scatological name-calling, etc. in an effort to reach consensus or (far more commonly) make their own point and stick a finger in the eye of the disagreeable other guy in the process.

Universally lost in this is the primordial question: Why do we do all this? A former co-worker of mine had the answer.

"I just wanna be happy."

Isn't this engraved into the very soul of our Constitution? The right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?" The Founders remembered that for all of our strugglings, whether they be technical, political, social, emotional or physical, we just want to be happy.

Now comes the results of a study that lists all countries in the world based on the happiness of their citizens. It's an eye-opener, to say the least., The study was published by the UK-based New Economics Foundation. The article describing it is here, courtesy of The Independent.

The kicker: those of us in the United States are no where near as happy as we should be. The island of Vanuatu scores highest with 68.2, while poor Zimbabwe is at the bottom of the list with 16.6. (Ouch.)

Here's the bottom of the list:

  • Canada: 39.8
  • Ireland: 39.4
  • France: 36.4
  • USA: 28.8
  • Russia: 22.8
  • Estonia: 22.7
  • Ukraine: 22.2
  • Dem. Rep. Congo: 20.7
  • Burundi: 19.0
  • Swaziland: 18.4
  • Zimbabwe: 16.6

Damn. We're not that far from the bottom! Neither are other countries that we largely perceive to be similar to us, such as England and Canada.

I don't claim to know what we can do to increase our happiness as a nation. But as they say, "first you have to acknowledge you have a problem." Also, it's patently true that there's more to life than being happy. Many historical figures achieved greatness despite - or perhaps because of - great personal trials, difficulty and unhappiness.

Still, if we're so unhappy, the question must be asked: what are we doing wrong?

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