OWN: What is the Happiest Place In The World?

What is the Happiest PlaceSep 21, 2011 – Oprah Winfrey’s Primetime on OWN with Deborah Roberts, aired an ABC Special on the Keys to Happiness originally taped in 2008, but it’s message is timeless. Hosted by Bill Weir, and together with Dan Buettner, the founder of Blue Zones, a project that studies happiness and longevity around the world, they tell us why some places are considered some of the Happiest Places in the World.

Social scientists and pollsters had given elaborate questionnaires to hundreds of thousands of people around the globe.  Dan Buettner said the answer they got was not only how they felt at that moment, but how they felt about their entire life.

Ranking 178 nations, the results were surprising!  A paradise like Fiji came in at #57, while Iceland came in at #4.  France ranked #62 and Italy #50. USA came in at #23 and Canada #10.

So, what place came out the happiest?  Bill Weir reports that the databases of universities and research centers found that the happiest place on earth is Denmark!

Even though it’s cold, dreary and the taxes are high, most people polled in Denmark said their happiness level was about 7,8, 9, or 10.  Most Danes admit they feel “tucked in” or taking care of. That’s because with an income tax rate of up to 63%, the government pays all health care, education and spends more on children and the elderly per capita that any other nation in the world.  One political truth must be noted. With a population of about 5 1/2 million, there is very little diversity in Denmark. Nine out of ten are full blooded Danes. Eight out of ten are Lutherans.  Bill says happiness can exist in melting pots like America, but social scientists point out that higher taxes are easier to pay when you know the money is going to someone who looks and thinks like you.

But another source of their happiness might well be the Danish attitude toward social status. They have a way of thinking that says that you are no better than anybody else. People seem to choose careers for other reasons than income or status. We were introduced to a garbageman who took the job because he only had to work five hours in the morning and spends the rest of the day with family and coaching his daughter’s handball team.  But he says he loves being a garbage man and no one judges his choice of career.  The people on his route welcome him daily and they share coffee and other social interactions.

We also saw a carpenter’s apprentice called Joseph. He says he likes working all day and at the end of the day seeing what you have built.  On the weekends he likes to fish and hunt.  And Joseph is also a prince, a descendent of the Danish king, related to the royal houses of France and Spain.  And rarely discusses his lineage to anyone.

Hanging out with other Danes may be another secret to their happiness. 92% belong to some type of social club like a dancing club, a singing club, cold water swimming clubs, train building clubs, even laughing clubs. These clubs provide emotional insulation against the long winters and are often subsidized by the government.

Another difference, is that the Danish society is considered a post consumer society.  Bill reports that while people in Denmark do have nice things, shopping and consuming is not the first priority.  With less emphasis on personal possessions and a strong social fabric, Danes display an amazing level of trust in one another and their government.  Vegetable stands are run on the honor system for payment and mothers leave their babies in strollers unattended outside of cafés.  Most bicycles are left unlocked.

But that bicycle may be the best symbol of Danish happiness.  Bill says they can all afford cars but they choose bikes.  Simple, economical, show no social status, and they help keep people fit. In short as one Dane put it “we have a good society that takes care of you and mainly people are good to each other. You can live your life so it’s a good place to be.”

In contrast, how happy can you be in a place that has the execution rate in the world?

According to Dan Buettner,  95% of the people in Singapore said they are happy or somewhat happy. He said Singapore is the happiest place in Asia! But that was not always the case. Bill Weir reports that Singapore was once a smelly, chaotic seaport. But in 1959, Lee Kuan Yew took power and laid down the law.  He banned spitting, chewing gum, and long hair and turned Singapore into one of the richest, cleanest, safest, efficient and biggest cities in the world.

But this city takes its laws and rules seriously.  There are fines for the smallest infractions like littering and forgetting to flush!  More serious criminals are strapped down and beaten with a bamboo cane. Dan Buettner explains that these people have different values than us.  To them security, cleanliness and orderliness is very important.  They also pay high-level politicians $1 million or more a year. They feel it lowers the temptation to accept bribes.  Singapore has one of the 10 most lowest rates of corruption.  This creates an extraordinary amount of trust and stability despite the harsh laws.

But Singapore is not without those that indulge in glitz and glamour, as one popular socialite and self made millionaire put it “The 5 C’s, cars, cash, credit cards, condominiums and country clubs”.  But is she content? She says sometimes she gets unhappy if she compares her life with someone elses and finds they may have a more luxurious life, a bigger car or a bigger house etc.

Bill reports that Singapore’s drive to earn, spend and impress is a good example of why Singapore is not quite as happy as a less materialistic country like Denmark.

Well, what about the happiest place in America? Eric Weiner, author of The Geography of Bliss scanned the globe and using the lessons he learned, he picked Asheville, North Carolina.  He thinks the population number has a lot to do with it. Asheville has a population of about 70,000 which he says was the population of Florenc, Italy during the Renaissance, when you had this great flowering of humanity. In Asheville, there are beautiful mountains all around and a thriving artistic community. Lots of coffee shops and book stores and a strong sense of community. One thing he has learned researching his book is that people matter. There is no such thing as personal happiness. Your happiness is part and parcel of those around you.

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