A World of Happiness

Happiness statistics are rotten in the state of Denmark.

While I usually avoid all things Oprah like the swine flu, I happened to catch an episode of her show this week. After recently visiting Copenhagen, Denmark with her BFFs the Obamas, she decided that the Danes have got it all figured out. Her study of happiness around the world found that Denmark tops the list. Blondes and bicycles abound in this heavenly Nordic nation, and with free health care and education -- and exorbitant spending on maternity and unemployment benefits -- this Scandinavian sanctuary has been deemed the world's happiest country.

During her report, Oprah bemoaned the fact that Americans just haven't become civilized enough to embrace European socialism and that our uneducated, unhealthy, obese, war-obsessed, wasteful, and polluted homeland is an enigma to the high-minded progressiveness of other parts of the world. If only America could wise up and learn to be like that little beauty on the Baltic.

However, Oprah should have done her research a bit more thoroughly before becoming too attached to the smørrebrød and rødgrød.

According to statistics easily found on a variety of websites, including Nationmaster and the CIA World Factbook, Denmark is perhaps not all it's cracked up to be.

Oprah made a big deal about the level of economic equality in Denmark, due of course to 53% income taxes. However, Denmark has the sixth-highest level of population below the median income per capita, while the U.S. is actually more equal, farther down the list at #28. 

Happiness must be graded on a curve in Denmark. Since everything is so wonderful, it's strange to see that the Danes are actually so unhappy that they commit suicide much more often, in every adult age bracket, than we sad and confused Americans do. And while Denmark celebrates its effectiveness in caring for the elderly, the country is #1 in the world in suicides for those aged 65-74. And for all of its great health care programs, Danes and Americans have almost exactly the same average life expectancy...as long as citizens don't kill themselves.

One may think that happiness is related to safety and a lack of crime. However, Denmark has more total crimes per capita than the U.S. and more total crime victims. Denmark has more car theft, more drug offenses, more fraud, and more burglaries. Perhaps the biggest crime of all is that Denmark's gasoline price is nearly $10 per gallon. 

Maybe happiness comes from not having to work very hard or invent anything. The U.S. is #1 in innovation, while Denmark is #17. The U.S. is #3 in patenting, while Denmark is #27. The U.S. is #1 in business efficiency, while Denmark is #8, and the U.S. is #2 in overall productivity per person, while Denmark is #8. The U.S. has a higher gross national income in total and per capita. And while the American economy has been struggling of late, it maintains a higher GDP growth rate than Denmark, which was one of the few countries in the world recently with a net negative growth rate. 

Even though our education system is certainly in disrepair, we still are home to seven of the top ten universities in the world. Denmark has zero. We have 31 of the top 100 universities and 168 of the top 500. Denmark has one and five, respectively. Despite political correctness, we must be doing something okay in higher education. 

And while Oprah and her Danish friends extolled the ability to find real love more easily in Denmark, the Danes have a much higher divorce rate than Americans do.

Though America may not be as happy as Denmark, it appears that we try much harder to make others happy. The U.S. is #2 in the world in personal participation in charitable organizations. Denmark is #16 at only 2%. The U.S. is by far #1 in the world in Red Cross donations -- nearly twenty times higher than #8 Denmark.

Finally, the U.S. is #1 in pride of nationality. Denmark is #10, with only 42% of citizens being proud of their nation. Apparently, being the happiest country doesn't necessarily make you love being there.

Though anyone will acknowledge that America has plenty of problems that need fixing and much frustration that needs transforming, happiness is not sufficient in creating a great nation.  And while Oprah may secretly, or not so secretly, pine for a socialist utopia, I'm quite happy with America.