Oh, to be a Swede! Or, better yet, a Dane! Or to live in any Nordic country these days. Why? To live in a Nordic country is to live among the world's happiest people. According to the United Nations' World Happiness Report, 2013, Nordic countries offer their citizens the greatest happiness on earth.
By what criteria does the U.N. measure happiness? In Denmark, parents don't get just a paltry few weeks parental leave when they have a child. They get 52 weeks of parental leave. Not only that, early childhood education is available to each child. It is believed that the earlier children begin formal education, the more well adjusted and successful they will be later in life. Free health care is seen as a right. Apparently, the ability to see our primary physician multiple times during the year is essential for our mental health. Danes see their primary care physician 7 times a year verses 4 times a year for Americans. Gender equality has nearly been achieved. Women are being paid increasingly the same as men. There is almost complete equality of employment among the sexes. Biking isn't just an extreme sport; it is the norm. The ethos of collective responsibility leads to a higher rate of volunteerism.
In terms of human happiness, the U.N. rates the United States as number 17, just below Mexico.
My response is twofold, the first is political, the second, spiritual.
The inescapable conclusion of the U.N. report is that government is the source of human happiness. Parental leave, gender parity, free health care, they are all provided by the government. The unspoken motivation of this report is to create an allegiance to government. Government is to be seen as the key to success in any endeavor. President Obama and Elizabeth Warren didn't originate the "You didn't build that" mentality. That belief is just another European import.
Children in the Danish school system will of course prefer the system they are brought up in. That is human nature. Complain about the state of American education and many Americans will agree with you. Criticize local schools and see how quickly many of those who attended those same schools unfriend you on Facebook. Those who experienced early childhood education claim they are more successful and more sophisticated as a result. Yet early childhood education (educating children as early as two or three) is just another opportunity to mold children to the government's liking and weaken the family unit.
Riding a bike instead of driving certainly has health benefits. If enough people ride their bikes, air pollution would certainly decrease. There is no question that this would affect the happiness of those living in big cities. Yet it should be noted that one major reason people take to their bikes in Europe is the horrendous price of gas Europeans have to pay. In Denmark, the price of gas is now $5.93/gallon, according to CNN. According to Bloomberg, in February of 2013, it was $8.22/gallon. This has been the case long before gas prices went up here in the U.S. The high price of gas in Europe is by design. Government design, that is. European governments fix the price of gas to discourage driving. President Obama has said he would like Americans to pay the same for gas as Europeans do. Yes, we need to combat pollution. But the motivation to convince the U.S. to change its entire way of life to combat it is political. The U.N. wishes Americans to see freedom as a threat to the planets existence. Just recently, a top U.N. official involved with climate issues stated that democracy is a poor system to combat climate change. The most useful government model, according to her, is communism, particularly communism practiced by the Chinese government. She is apparently blind to the fact that China is polluting its air and poisoning its soil on a massive scale, harming,even killing, its own citizens.
Americans certainly love their cars. They prize the freedom of mobility a car gives. Some would claim that the mobility Americans have experienced is a selfish luxury. However, many historians have credited the ability of Americans to move from place to place as a stabilizing force. American mobility reduces the kind of political discontent which leads to instability in other nations. In some third world countries, the happiest time for a young man is to take his girl friend through the city streets on a motor bike. It is often the only pleasure daily life affords. There are lots of cool songs about driving cars and motor cycles. Are there any cool Danish songs about bike riding?
Is visiting your primary care physician seven times a year, as the Danes do, necessarily a good thing? That Americans see theirs' only four times a year, is that a bad thing? Do most healthy people need to see their doctor seven times a year? Perhaps government provided free health care encourages people to see their doctor more than they need to. Before Obamacare, I never had difficulty seeing my physician. I prefer to deal with one doctor. During my father's last illness, his care was directed by a team of doctors who didn't always coordinate their treatment successfully. This was demoralizing for the family. Yet to imply that this is the state of care for all Americans, even those who are healthy and not in the hospital, as the first link above implies, is misleading.
As for volunteerism, in the U.S., it is conservatives who volunteer the most and contribute the most to charity. (Nicholas Kristof, a liberal, wrote an op-ed confirming this in the New York Times. His article is titled "Bleeding Heart Tightwads". It appeared on 12/21/08. You have to register to access the article.) If the U.S. repatriated its liberal population, which is stingy concerning these matters, would the U.S. look a lot like Denmark? I doubt it. But note how the article implies that those who live in quasi-socialist countries have greater compassion for humanity.
I would be amiss to move on without pointing out that one of the primary reasons Denmark, Sweden, and all the other Nordic and European countries have been able to afford their way of life is the support of the American taxpayer. Americans have paid for Europe's defense so the Europeans didn't have to do it themselves. The U.S., with its strategic interests around the world, can not afford to build the nanny state that exists in European countries. (However, this reality seems to have escaped President Obama's notice.)
There is one last point to consider. The very countries which the U.N. declares to be the happiest on earth have very high suicide rates. Some attribute this to the lack of sunlight in Nordic countries. Others believe inherited depression is the culprit. Yet the evidence from the U.S., provided in the link above, refutes this. The states which best reflect the conditions which are supposed to have made Nordic people the world's happiest have higher suicide rates than the rest of the states. Hawaii is an example. The Time article identifies the culprit. It is prosperity and happiness itself. (Yet the author seems to favor the very policies which produce such happiness.) The kind of happiness achieved in Nordic countries is conducive to high suicide rates. In a society where government is the guarantor of success and happiness, the human spirit is diminished. Those that struggle have hope, and hope satisfied includes the satisfaction of achievement. Married couples who struggle together share personal bonds that others do not. Shared affliction produces greater intimacy which positively affects personal happiness. Societies where governments remove most of life's obstacles create an environment where there is no hope. Hope is banished when the government is seen to be the source of happiness rather than God. Note that the U.N. assessment had no religious criteria in assessing happiness. Such a society makes life feel meaningless so that many cannot face living. If striving for wealth doesn't bring happiness, neither does its opposite number, a society that gives you everything.