If you want to be happy move to a cold country?

beach vacationIt is hard to believe. Whatever happened to the idea that the ultimate in happiness was lounging on a tropical beach, umbrella drink in hand, while island music wafted by on a soft ocean breeze? Wait, that was the ideal vacation. What about the ideal life?

Well, the annual happiness report for 2016 is in and there is little that is sunny and warm about the locations that produce the most content people. The top thirteen, in order, are Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Canada, Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia, Sweden, Israel, and the U.S.

winter-vacationsDon’t believe it? Then let’s ask exactly how this happiness thing is being measured.

This is the fourth such report generated by Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and the Earth Institute at Columbia University. The results are not obtained by just asking people if they are happy. Rather, they come from asking people in 156 countries to evaluate various parts of their lives on a scale from 0 to 10. Lots of variables are examined, but six attributes account for most of the variation among countries. I would sum these up as wealth, health, love, freedom, fairness and kindness. And yes, I could see how those all would contribute to happiness.

(Note that the more precise, but less succinct people who generate the report refer to these as real GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on, perceived freedom to make life choices, freedom from corruption, and generosity as measured by donations.)

What countries currently have the least happy populations? Starting with the unhappiest, they are Burundi, Syria, Togo, Afghanistan, Benin, Rwanda, Guinea, Liberia, Tanzania, Madagascar, Yemen, Uganda, and Burkina Faso. Yes, there are a lot of warm, sunny places in here. More to the point, there are places torn apart by war, struggling with disease, and centers of extreme poverty, so clearly this isn’t really about climate.

Other happy countries include Costa Rica (#14) Mexico (#21) and Panama (#25).  Plenty of wonderful beaches in all three places. Meanwhile cold weather hardly guarantees happiness, with Bulgaria coming in at #129, the Ukraine at #123 and #Mongolia at 101.

raising ecstacy 1It is often said that happiness is an inside job, and to some extent that is true. We all know people who can be miserable anywhere, under any circumstances. But on the whole, in aggregate, we humans do respond to our environment. If we are materially comfortable, in good health, surrounded by those we care about and by others we perceive as fair and kind, and if we are free to life our lives as we want, then well, guess what. We are more likely to be happy.

Hot or cold, in sunshine or in snow, those places that are wise enough to make it a priority to foster such an such an environment for all are going to be the best places to live.

(For more posts on the subject of what makes us happy see Happiness fascinates me, None of us are normal if we’re lucky, Four Reasons I Love It When “Love Wins”, Some Kind of Kindness, The fairest of them all?, and When is it time for “More”?)

Happy yet?

fractal 2Today we did it. We signed the document that says yes, in exchange for x amount of money minus y amount of concessions and repairs we will leave our home which we love and go somewhere else. We will allow it to be filled point forward by strangers whom we will probably never will meet.

In some cultures this would be a monumental, every-few-generation sort of event. In other circles, our sadness is hard to understand. We’re a little embarrassed about it, frankly. We like to think we are not so attached to our possessions and that our spirits have been longing for the freedom to roam.

pat polacco 2But like most things, it’s not a simple choice. This is a beautiful place with space for gardens and the front porch on which I’ve now written five novels. Yes, we’d keep it if we could. That is, if we could without having to work so hard to keep it beautiful, and without continuing to work long days in a windowless office just to afford it. It has come to consume our resources of every kind, and we chose not to accept that. We choose a little house, with far less yard and fewer things that break, and we will cherish the time and the freedom that little house will bring.

Are we happy yet? Well, we are relieved that the deed is nearly done. The best I think we are going to manage tonight is “bittersweet.” That will be followed by a lot of hard work. I mean actually putting our furniture into a truck and driving cross country kind of work. Will we be happier for having done all this? We think so. We hope so. We’re going to find out.

For more about letting go of one’s old life and moving on, see my post “How full is too full?”

State pride

texas-bluebonnetsI’m struggling right now with news that members of the Texas GOP want to take a stance against the gay community. The moderates seem to want to recommend therapy for those seeking to escape from their homosexual lifestyle while the hardliners would prefer a statement that homosexuality tears at the fabric of society. Seriously?

These freedom loving folks — who so clearly do not want the government telling them how to live their lives — seem hell bent on telling about 10% of the population how to live. Is there no sense of irony in the GOP?

Today as I was looking for a post to move to this new umbrella blog, I stumbled on a video from awhile back. It reminds me that Texans of all kinds value courtesy, freedom of choice and just plain old letting others be themselves.

The Texans in this video make me proud of my home state.  I wish that more of them were helping to write the GOP platform.

A good choice

Some readers of y1 have praised the story’s criticisms of the zealous marketing of prescriptions drugs in American, particularly mental health drugs to children and young adults. A couple of readers have taken issue with it.  For me as a writer, the subject was representative of the larger issue of putting profit ahead of the well-being of our children. It was a vehicle to make a bigger point.

tearsBut as a mother, the idea of routinely prescribing drugs with serious side-effects and unknown long term consequences to children as young as two years old hits home with an emotional wallop of its own. Every once in awhile I come across an article that reminds me why I thought that  pharmaceutical marketing targeting children would provide a good villain for my story.

Gwen Olsen, who worked for fifteen years as a drug rep for Johnson & Johnson and Bristol-Myers Squibb, was recently quoted on Alternet as saying: “Children are known to be compliant patients and that makes them a highly desirable market for drugs, especially when it pertains to large profit-margin psychiatric drugs, which can be wrought with noncompliance because of their horrendous side-effect profiles.”

Great. Adults are allowed to follow their best instincts and listen to their own bodies, and therefore frequently stop taking drugs they find more harmful than helpful. Children can be ordered to take their medicine, and their parents can be scared into making them do so.

It is enough to make a healthy adult want to cry.