Not to get personal or anything, but – are you happy?

The question is fodder for long thoughts, especially considering the pandemic, inflation, insurrection, supply chain woes, weather disasters, racial injustice, the war in Ukraine, and our sharply divergent opinions on laws and politics.

These days, we are not a happy nation.

Or are we?

According to the tenth annual World Happiness Report, released earlier this year, the United States ranks in the top 20 among 146 countries sampled for happiness, coming in at Number 16.

So that in itself is a reason to be happy, even if our ranking – based on information gathered in Gallup polling from 2019 to 2021 seems overly bright in view of what we endure when we turn on the news these days.

The report, issued annually by a grant-funded and independent offshoot of the United Nations, has named Finland the world’s happiest country for the fifth consecutive year

The ranking is based on the availability of social support, life expectancy, freedom to make one’s own choices, generosity of the population, perceptions of corruption or lack of it, and health of the economy. 

Within that, thousands of people around the globe are asked about their own state of personal happiness 

Some of the other countries deemed happier than the U.S., in numerical order after Finland, were Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Sweden, and Norway.  Our neighbor to the north, Canada, slid in just ahead of us at Number 15.

On the other end of the spectrum, listed as the world’s least happy country was the Taliban-controlled and impoverished Afghanistan.

The report becomes especially timely in August, which, you may be happy to hear, is “Happiness Happens Month.” 

This has existed since 1998 when Texas author and motivational speaker Pamela Gail Johnson founded what she named the “Secret Society of Happy People.”

The related August observance is geared toward encouraging folks to be more vocal not about what makes them unhappy, but to catalog and appreciate elements of their lives that fulfill them, and to share their thoughts with others.

Maybe Johnson is a bit of a Pollyanna, but in times of turmoil it can’t hurt to appreciate the positive; sages through history have reminded us that happiness can be spun in only one place – within ourselves.

As Abraham Lincoln put it, “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

Others have pointed out that some people search so hard for happiness they don’t recognize when it’s in their grasp. The late philosophical editor William Feather once observed, “Plenty of people miss their share of happiness, not because they never found it, but because they didn’t stop to enjoy it.”

Others work too hard at pursuing it, according to the late blue-collar philosopher Eric Hoffer, who believed “The search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness.”

Silver linings do exist, even in the age of Covid 19, according to the report. It notes that in the pandemic years benevolence has increased in every global region, with people increasingly moved to “give money to charity, help strangers, and do voluntary work.”

As my clinical psychologist wife, Doctor Ann, would say, it’s realistic to acknowledge that we can’t change what’s beyond our control – but we can control our general outlook on life.

As a daily reminder, she long ago affixed to our refrigerator door a magnet that declares, “Misery is optional – you choose.”

Gerry Goldstein (gerryg76@verizon.net), a frequent contributor, is a retired Providence Journal editor and columnist.

Gerry Goldstein

Gerry Goldstein, an occasional contributor to What's Up, is a retired Providence Journal editor and columnist who has been writing for Rhode Island newspapers and magazines for 60 years