What could be more important than happiness?

WASHINGTON (AP) — If you want to go to your happy place, you need more than cash. A winter coat helps — and a sense of community. A new report shows Norway is the happiest country on Earth, Americans are getting sadder, and it takes more than just money to be happy. Norway vaulted to the top slot in the World Happiness Report despite the plummeting price of oil, a key part of its economy. Income in the United States has gone up over the past decade, but happiness is declining. The United States was 14th in the latest ranking, down from No. 13 last year, and over the years Americans steadily have been rating themselves less happy. “It’s the human things that matter. If the riches make it harder to have frequent and trustworthy relationship between people, is it worth it?” asked John Helliwell, the lead author of the report and an economist at the University of British Columbia in Canada (ranked No. 7). “The material can stand in the way of the human.”

Whenever studies relating to happiness are published, the media in this country normally regards them with arched eyebrows, as if reporting on happiness is some sort of quixotic pursuit, not the stuff of REAL journalism. While it may seem rather ethereal and “touchy-feely,” academics have for some time been calling for studies of humanity’s emotional well-being.

It makes sense; happy people don’t go to war or attempt to subjugate those they believe to be “less than.” Happy people don’t attempt to force their beliefs on others who happen not to share them. Happy people don’t kill or steal.

There’s no denying satisfaction and happiness impact us individually and collectively. The aggregate happiness of society can impact (among other things) how and what government does. Happiness can help determine not only how government delivers services, but also what services are necessary.

And, not surprisingly, it turns out that material wealth doesn’t lead to happiness.

Equally unsurprisingly, lack of material wealth isn’t exactly a pathway to bliss.

Central African Republic fell to last on the happiness list, and is joined at the bottom by Burundi, Tanzania, Syria and Rwanda.

The report ranks 155 countries. The economists have been ranking countries since 2012, but the data used goes back farther so the economists can judge trends.

If you’ve been thinking that America is becoming a meaner, more contentious, and less contented place, you’re spot on. Turns out our collective happiness has declined over the past few years. The resulting discontent and feelings of alienation may well be responsible for Donald Trump winning the Presidential election. Not that his victory should in any way be taken to be a recipe for increased happiness.

Study co-author and economist Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University said in a phone interview from Oslo that the sense of community, so strong in Norway, is deteriorating in the United States.

“We’re becoming more and more mean spirited. And our government is becoming more and more corrupt. And inequality is rising,” Sachs said, citing research and analysis he conducted on America’s declining happiness for the report. “It’s a long-term trend and conditions are getting worse.”

University of Maryland’s Carol Graham, who wasn’t a study author but did review some chapters, said the report mimics what she sees in the American rural areas, where her research shows poor whites have a deeper lack of hope, which she connects to rises in addictions to painkillers and suicide among that group.

“There is deep misery in the heartland,” Graham, author of the book “The Pursuit of Happiness,” wrote in an email.

There’s deep misery…and yet people in the heartland continue voting for a political party firmly dedicated to fostering that discontent.

Of course, if we’re relying on government to be the driver and source of our collective happiness, we’re destined to be (and remain) disappointed. Happiness isn’t a wholesale phenomenon; it’s a retail consideration. Being happy (or not) is a personal decision made by each of us. We can be as happy as we choose to be…or we can blame others for the things we believe to be wrong.

If you don’t believe me, just go to YouTube and watch a video of any Trump rally. What you’ll see are angry White folks committed to wallowing in their own self-ascribed victimhood.

How could anyone hope to be happy when they’re blaming others for their miserable lot in life?

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