Over Easy: Happy enough in the Upper Valley

Dan Mackie (Courtesy photograph)

Dan Mackie (Courtesy photograph)

Finland's flag flies aboard the Finnish icebreaker MSV Nordica as it arrives into Nuuk, Greenland, in 2017. According to the international World Happiness Report, Finland is the happiest country in the world in 2024. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Finland's flag flies aboard the Finnish icebreaker MSV Nordica as it arrives into Nuuk, Greenland, in 2017. According to the international World Happiness Report, Finland is the happiest country in the world in 2024. (AP Photo/David Goldman) David Goldman—AP

By DAN MACKIE

For the Valley News

Published: 03-28-2024 4:39 PM

The World Happiness Report is out, and America’s ranking might make you frown. The USA, where “the pursuit of happiness” is enshrined in the Constitution, just after “the Right to Taylor Swift Concert Tickets” and “Snacks on on Super Bowl Sunday,” has fallen out of the top 20 happy nations.

We are ranked number 23, well behind cheerful Canada and boisterous Australia. We are also behind Luxembourg, a country that is mostly known for being stuck between other countries.

The World Happiness Report is put together by Gallup, the Oxford Wellbeing Research Centre, The U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network, and other deep thinkers and do-gooders.

They ask people to assess their lives according to six things: GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom, generosity and corruption.

My personal GDP is “enough,” social support is OK and I’m currently alive, which at age 71 is a definite plus. I’m free at the moment, somewhat generous and grew up in Rhode Island, so the Upper Valley feels like Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood instead of The Sopranos.

Apparently our happiness score is slipping because young people are increasingly unhappy, that is, miserable. According to a CNN summary, Americans under 30 rank 62nd in national joy. This may have something to do with high debts, punishing rents, generalized political nastiness and a feeling that the world is burning up. They’ve also grown up with social media, which prods you to compare your attractiveness against everyone in the world. Ugh, I’m not sure I’m even in the top 1 billion. Luckily, I’m out of the attractiveness business.

Where are young adults happier? Atop the list is Lithuania. Go figure. One story noted that housing and health care are far more affordable there. I imagine that dropping out of the old Soviet Union could also brighten your mood. Compare young people’s scores with those in the over-60 crowd. We are seasoned complainers, but rank a chipper 10th among our global peers. Speaking only for myself and the woman who married me in 1976, there is much to be said for having a paid-off house, no debt, good health care (traditional Medicare), and more technology than we can ever hope to use or understand.

No TikTok for us. It takes Dede and I about a week to reprogram our clocks when we switch them over. Our 2018 Subaru Forester still reminds us annually to send birthday wishes to Nana, not our Nana, but someone associated with the original owner. Now I could get out the manual and fix it, or just say “Happy Birthday Nana” once a year. I hope she is happy, wherever and whoever she is.

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According to the World Happiness Report, the top three happy places in 2024 are Finland, Denmark and Iceland. You may recognize them as countries where taxes are high but pricey things like health care and education are paid for.

Reportedly Finns are surprised by their high ranking, since they see themselves as reserved, maybe even dour, but they say they are generally content with their lot, which goes a long way in these times.

Scandinavian countries have words for cozy contentment — the Danish is hygge, a happy little word. Meanwhile, we Americans are heading toward a national breakdown because of online bickering, cable news, awful politics and ... just everything.

I for one am figuring out what to do if the presidential election goes a certain way. I feel too old to seek Canadian or Irish citizenship, which I might be able to get. I’ve been American since 1952 and it’s too late to learn to say “aboot” for “about” like Canadian law requires or drive on the “wrong” side of the road, as in Ireland.

Against all instincts and long-held practices, I’m hoping for the best. My political slogan is “Avert the Worst in 2024.”

I actually do feel happy, pretty much, more or less, more often than not. I give some of the credit to life in the Upper Valley, the Finland of America. It is cold, dark, and people leave you alone, if you want that. Compared to states like Texas and Florida, state politics are less mean-spirited. I like living in a place where a trip to the convenience store doesn’t call for body armor and crocodiles don’t eat our poodles.

Around here, it doesn’t get much better than maple sugaring season. If the boiling of sap is enough excitement for you, you are in the right place. Our spring break means flannel shirts, little shacks in the woods, steam rising, and the big payoff: syrup on oatmeal. Whoop! Whoop!

If we are not entirely thrilled with life, I’d hope that like the Finns we are happy enough. We’ll see how it goes from there.

Dan Mackie lives in West Lebanon. He can be reached at dan.mackie@yahoo.com.