A recent study by The United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network indicates that the happiest countries in the world are:
- New Zealand
Now, you may ask, what do all these countries have in common — except, perhaps the last one, with which I’ll deal a bit later on — and can people in other countries possibly emulate the top five so as to be so blissfully happy that the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network will think them worthy of mention, too?
You might think, “Ah, it must be a common Christian cultural heritage!” Don’t run too fast with that one. Every one of the countries mentioned are experiencing the practical extinction of organized religion. If I may be permitted to digress — I ask this of you, dear reader — oh, and thank you — the only problem with the death of Christianity is the question of how we can make use of the fine buildings that religion has bequeathed to us. All over the world, the most ornate and costly buildings have typically been those devoted to the practice of religion. I’m not sure what other use a building like Chartres Cathedral can have. Maybe a place where people can come and discuss the challenges of living a peaceful life in this hectic world.
Okay, back to the question of what these happy countries (we were talking about happy countries) have in common. Drum roll:
Yes, clouds. Think of northern Europe: clouds. Who ever went to Denmark expecting an abundance of sunny days fit for lolling about in a grassy park? Who would think it unfair if it rained on their holiday in Holland? No, it is precisely the cloudiness that predominates in these countries that causes people to think happy thoughts — sunny thoughts.
I know why, and I bet you’re not a bit surprised, dear reader. It’s this: When it’s sunny, we feel it necessary to get outside and get active, to do stuff. Not creative stuff like building another Chartres Cathedral, but stuff like mowing the lawn, painting the fence, cleaning the pool, edging the gardens, and washing the car. Nothing Earth-shattering, just outside stuff, stuff you do so you won’t feel like you wasted a beautiful sunny day. So you’re outside, your mind is occupied in physical activity, and instead of thinking of writing a letter, a story, a poem, a philosophical treatise, you’re thinking of whether you should have used muriatic acid or simple methyl alcohol to clean the fence slats before you painted them. I submit that the letter, the story, the poem, and the philosophical treatise will make more people happy than will your choice of cleaning fluid for a fence.
Think about waking up on a rainy morning, just as the Sun rises. How your heart leaps! How you smile as you open the blinds to a thick fog! “Oh, joy!” you say to yourself, “Today I don’t have to paint the fence, edge the garden, nor mow the lawn! I have three books I have been wanting to read, and that story of mine that I never finished — maybe I’ll get to that!” Yes, it is the very promise of personal creative choice that is inherent in every rainy morning. You might even decide to spend a day inside just staring at the photographs and paintings you have on the walls, and that will make you happy. Or you can pay attention to your dog, your cat, your fish, your iguana, or whatever creature you call a pet — and that will make you happy. You can pen a letter to a friend, and express your feelings and thoughts, and that will make you happy. You can attend to the bills that have been piling up while you were outside painting the fence, edging the garden, washing the car, and mowing the lawn, and that will make you happy.
Of course, should you wish, you could do all your outside chores in the rain. It might not be very effective to paint in the rain, but you could do it quite properly if you put a tarp up over your workspace. And it really is ideal to wash your car in the rain, because as every car wash solution label will tell you, never wash your car in a sunny spot. I would recommend against mowing on a rainy day, but that’s mostly because that is the kind of weather that brings out the little critters like toads and such that can be harmed by your mower. And if you put a tarp down over your lawn all summer, you’d never have to worry about mowing it in the first place. But you get my point: you have Freedom of Choice on a rainy day. But when the Sun is shining? Nothing but tyranny! Can’t write a letter: it’s sunny out! Can’t write a story: it’s sunny out! Can’t stare at the walls: it’s sunny out! Out of my way, kitty, it’s sunny out! I have to mow, I have to greet the neighbors so they won’t think I’m a recluse, I have to sweep the sidewalk, weed, hose, paint, plant — the list goes on ad infinitum. And you do not have a choice. There is a little voice that lives in you, and it will not let you do what you want on a sunny day: it dictates your day, and you will have to get outside and do what it commands. This is not how life should be. And that is what the top nine countries understand.
Now, as promised, I will explain why Australia is on that list. As in many other matters, Australia is an oddity, and exception. The platypus lives there; the koala; the wombat; the funnel-web spider. And there we may have a possible answer. In Australia, going outside is extremely hazardous. Take your shoes off, or lie on the grass — and a Sydney funnel-web spider will come along and put an immediate end to your joyous outing. And if that’s not enough, Australia has the world’s most dangerous snake (the inland taipan), the world’s deadliest jellyfish (the box jellyfish), the world’s most toxic bee (the Australian honey bee), not to mention the Australian paralysis tick, the bull ant, and the giant centipede — all of which are absolutely deadly. So if you’re in Australia, chances are, a fine day consists largely of staring at the walls and playing with the kitty. Hence the happiness.
It all makes sense. Look at all the world’s hot spots — and they’re quite literally hot spots. Iraq, Libya, Syria, Algeria, Tunisia, Niger, Mali: they’re always killing each other. If only they had what the top nine happy places have. If only they had the freedom of a rainy day.