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Sun, Apr

The Happiest Place on Earth

VOICES

ACCORDING TO LIZ - No, it’s not Disneyland or Disneyworld or the United States. It’s Finland. 

And it’s ironic in that the places that bill themselves as the happiest places on earth are fantasylands aimed at attracting the youth of America, the cohort that has dragged the United States down to #23 in the annual World Happiness Report

If only the youngest respondents were asked about their happiness levels, the U.S. would rank #62 in the annual report. 

It’s the happiness of Americans aged 60 plus weighing in at #10 worldwide who offset the misery of the young. Whole generations who are being slammed by falling wages and rising costs, for whom the tarnishing of the American faux-dream that working hard has not led to success. 

And that’s the dissatisfaction that Republicans may be counting on to drive through evisceration of Social Security – blind to the fact that even pre-teens know that they will need it some day. 

Moreover, although many can’t vote yet but they are decidedly aware that conservative politicians can’t be counted on to use any savings to ameliorate life for the young – being far too beholden to the uber-wealthy and plutocracy that has funded their rise to power and the public spotlight. 

Evidence of that selfishness abounds, from Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor-Green to Trump and Jeff Bezos to Elon Musk. 

As proof that money can’t buy happiness. 

Costa Rica, the Central American country that prides itself on having no army rose through the ranks to take 12th position. If the United States were to halve its military budget, how much happiness and abundance could our country create for its citizens? 

Other Nordic countries are clustered after Finland with Canada and the U.K. trailing behind at #16 and #20, respectively. For reference, there are 143 countries on the list with Iran at #100 and Afghanistan dead last. 

Finland’s citizens have a high level of trust in their government and its institutions such as education and healthcare, while such trust has hit a nadir in the United States and continues to plummet. 

Since Finland can’t hold a candle to the United States economically, what other factors could be contributing to American misery? 

Finland may not have a slew of American-style gazillionaires but it also doesn’t suffer America’s huge economic disparities and distended impoverished underclasses who, as an Oxfam report put it, “are denied their economic rights, trapped in poverty, and unable to accumulate wealth no matter how hard they work.” 

What it also doesn’t have is the compulsive addiction to social media that distracts all Americans, diminishing their self-esteem, magnifying their dissatisfactions, and keeping too many from taking initiative on their own. 

While young adults in Finland spend about 20 hours per week on social media and those in Western Europe average 3.5 hours per day, the United States boasts the third-largest social media audience globally despite having only four percent of its population. 

It is difficult to ferret out big picture numbers today as the focus in America is on marketing advantages and the percentages attracted by individual platforms, avoiding the granular social impact data. But it is easily double Finnish use, having passed seven hours a day in 2018, well prior to the pandemic which then boosted the explosion of online communication. 

Even the kids themselves see app-abuse as a crisis, agreeing their generation is obsessed with social media with even teens displaying negative consequences including anxiety, obsessions, and depression... but not them – they have their addiction under control. Not. 

Looping back, other countries with a high social media audiences are even lower than the United States on the happiness scale with China at #60, Indonesia at #80, and India at #126. 

But Phillip Inman, an economics correspondent for The Guardian, also blames the decline in positivity among Gen Z on the lack of a college education, essential skills training, and affordable housing. 

Halving the American military budget and directing the resultant cascade of funds to solving those specific problems would allow for a more hopeful future and a decline in Gen Z anomie, even if it couldn’t curtail people’s fascination with social media apps completely. 

Moreover, these might be areas where trickle-up economics could work to remove the pressure on parents, reducing insecurities in multiple generations of the working-middle and lower classes, people who have been increasingly sidelined by the government and suffered in isolation from financial insecurities. 

To paraphrase Thom Hartmann, the vast majority of voters want good public schools, debt-free college, quality infrastructure, and reasonably priced housing. 

They also want inexpensive and comprehensive healthcare coverage, clean air and water, action on climate change, and adequate Social Security and Medicare for retirement. And on the job front, easy access to unions that have the power to protect them from increasingly tyrannical corporate bosses, and the return of family- and locally-owned businesses that have been wiped out since Reagan stopped enforcing our nation’s anti-trust laws in 1983. 

They don’t want wars, they don’t want armies, they don’t want a government by plutocrats. 

And, given the list above, they don’t even want the so-called democracy under which they live, and can’t or won’t deliver what they desire most. 

In fact, it sounds as if most Americans would be happier under a social democracy like that of Finland #1, Denmark #2, Iceland #3, and Sweden #4. 

Happiness could soar under a 32-hour workweek as proposed by Bernie Sanders and California’s Laphonza Butler in the Senate, pointing out that “The financial gains from the major advancements in artificial intelligence, automation, and new technology must benefit the working class, not just corporate CEOs and wealthy stockholders on Wall Street.” 

Research on hundreds of companies with thousands of workers around the world already enjoying four-day, 32-hour weeks has shown improvements for both employers and workers. 

Boston College sociology professor, Juliet Schor, reports that “...nearly 70% experienced reduced rates of burnout. Stress fell. Reported physical and mental health improved. People felt less anxious and fatigued, exercised more, and slept better. Their life satisfaction rose, and conflicts among work, family, and life plummeted.” 

Corporations know that healthy and happy workers are productive workers. 

Dr. Dale Whelehan, senior human capital consultant for Deloitte Ireland who specializes in implementing organizational improvements based on science-based change, continues to promote a four-day workweek: “Increasing evidence firmly supports that reducing working hours yields beneficial outcomes for businesses, individuals, and the broader community.” 

Here in the United States, a flexible 32-hour could allow work days to track school day, slashing the need for childcare, improving family life, and providing for a significantly better life-work balance. 

Furthermore, what good is income without the time off to enjoy it? 

Bernie’s back again with a bill to improve paid time off for the American worker. With so many living paycheck to paycheck, vacation has to be paid to achieve any real benefit for the working class. 

His bill stipulates no less than two weeks of paid leave per annum... and that benefit is paltry when compared to other countries; the European Union mandates a minimum of four weeks of paid vacation for workers. 

To raise happiness for the vast majority of Americans, we must join together to fight the purveyors of profit over human dignity and rights. 

They are an adversary that won’t cave easily. They worship at the altar of Mammon and Mammon provides them the riches to buy power. 

Any threats to their future profits will provoke a backlash. To create the positive environment necessary to overcome their vituperous protectionism of their elitism. 

But are the Trumps and the Elon Musks and Jeff Bezoses happy? Or filled with sorrow in seeking after the unattainable? 

That Biblical verse reads in full “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”

(Liz Amsden is a contributor to CityWatch and an activist from Northeast Los Angeles with opinions on much of what goes on in our lives. She has written extensively on the City's budget and services as well as her many other interests and passions.  In her real life she works on budgets for film and television where fiction can rarely be as strange as the truth of living in today's world.)