Staff editorial: Happiness depends on point of view
Most everyone dreams of a world where people are happy and can live in peace with each other. Yet in this age of marvelous technological advances, a better understanding of the human race than any time in history, we seem farther away than ever from achieving any goal near that.
All through the ages people have longed for happiness and peace. Last Friday night there was a special on television's "20/20" about happiness and a study that had been done about where the happiest place in the world was. Based on researchers studies they found that Denmark is the happiest country on the planet. This small fairly non-descript country, has apparently figured out what happiness is, and it's obviously not continuous sunshine (based on their latitude) like many in our country believe.
Denmark has developed a social system in which people are the focus and materialism is played down. Many people ride bicycles everywhere they go despite the fact they have a high standard of living and most can afford and even own cars. Over 90 percent of the people in the country belong to some kind of social organization. Crime rates are very low. In one scene in the documentary they showed baby carriages lined up in front of a restaurant with babies in them and no one watching them. No one apparently worries that someone will snatch their kids.
To support the social fabric of the country however taxes are more than a bit higher than they are in the United States; over 60 percent of a Danish citizens income goes to the government.
Now studies are just that; they are often generalizations. I am sure there are a number of unhappy people in Denmark. There are depressed people who see nothing but the gloom and doom in the world and those that are down on everything. But I guess as a general rule, the Danish are happy people.
For me there are two questions to ask about this.
How do we define happiness and are people in Carbon County happy people?
Happiness is fleeting. I didn't see the survey or how they did the study in Denmark, but I am sure it measured some types of long term feelings. I know for myself one day I will be happy as heck and the next day I can be a grump and everything looks black. But as a whole I feel I am a pretty happy person, despite some setbacks that often temporarily derail my happiness train.
I once worked with a guy that told me that we need some unhappiness in our life to understand what happiness is. He told me that people who think they need to be happy all the time are the most unhappy of human beings, because they don't see the overall picture very well. At first I was taken back by his comments, but as I thought about it, and grew older I come to appreciate what he means. I know my life has been full of happy times, punctuated by periods of disaster or unhappy situations.
While I am not a religious person, I think basing happiness just on this world is a mistake. We need to be able to see beyond our personal lives and our plain of existence and realize how good we have it, even if our lives don't seem as good as our neighbors. Americans tend to judge life on what we have and what we do for a living. If you have ever talked to people from many lands outside our countries direct influence, their judgements about life tends to be on family and relationships, including those with spiritual connotations.
Happiness may be different for each person, and each individual should follow the path that makes them feel the best. The trick is finding that path. I have met very wealthy people who are very unhappy and those that are very poor that know what life is about and are content with it. The secret lies within each of us, not in someone else's idea of what is important.
By the way, in the rankings of the happiest countries in the world the United States places well down the line, somewhere around 30th. Some would say that is because we are too materialistic, others would see that as good sign because we are always striving to move forward and are not satisfied with the status quo. It's all in the interpretation.
Look at it any way you want. Just like happiness, how we perceive that ranking is based on what we find to be important in life.