Happiness in the United States

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Thursday, the 25th of July, 2019. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up, happiness.

For the second year in a row, Finland is regarded as the happiest country in the world, so regarded by the World Happiness Report, released in March. Neighboring Denmark and Norway took the number two and number three respectively. Iceland came in fourth. And Sweden ranks seventh.

The United States, on the other hand, is much less happy. For the third year in a row, the study shows American happiness has dipped. It now sits at number 19 on the happiness index.

REICHARD: What makes Americans increasingly dissatisfied while the Nordic countries are so content? And is happiness what we should aim for in the first place? WORLD Radio’s Jill Nelson looked into the recent trends while on a trip to Norway. She reports now on what they mean for Christians in both parts of the world.

JILL NELSON, REPORTER: The pursuit of happiness is embedded in the American dream. And we have all the rights and liberties to seek after that happiness. So why are the Nordic countries beating us at our own game?

Researchers cite America’s growing epidemic of addictions, obesity, and depression as contributors to our national unhappiness.

Ray Mitsch is a psychology professor at Colorado Christian University. He also blames our obsession with social media.

MITSCH: Well I think it’s stoked what I call the culture of comparison. What I’ve heard over and over again is why am I never enough? And the word enough, enough as a word is built on a comparison of some sort. 

The happiness ranking is produced by a United Nations initiative. It takes into account things like income, healthy life expectancy, and freedom to make life choices. All of those rank higher in those northern European countries.

AUDIO: [Clock tower]

But should health and wealth be our life’s aim? Studies show that as income, security, and happiness increase in developed countries, faith decreases. Nine of the 10 Norwegians I talked to in Oslo’s seaside park do not read the Bible.

AUDIO: Do you read the Bible? No. No. Why not? Atheist. Yeah, same. Do you read the Bible? No. Any reason why? No, not really.

A 2017 study by the Institute for Church, Religion, and Worldview Research found only 14 percent of Norwegians are confessing Christians. Even cultural Christianity is in decline.

Just six blocks east of that seaside park sits Oslo’s Nordic Bible Museum. It contains a collection of 3,000 rare Bibles from Scandinavia and around the world.

Gunnar Strand gives tours at the museum. He says most churches in Norway are spiritually dead.

AUDIO: Most of the people are into tradition, tradition, tradition to study the Bible is a complete other thing.  You have to study the Bible. 

The collection’s owner prizes the Bible as God’s word and the most distributed and translated book in the world. Strand hopes the museum brings Scandinavians back to the Bible.

AUDIO: The Bible is the only book to tell us the beginning of mankind, what went wrong and how it’s going to be good again. You can’t find that in another book, another collection of documentary, anywhere in the world. 

But Scandinavians’ self-satisfaction may actually push them further away from faith. Psychology professor Ray Mitsch says happiness lures us into an illusion of autonomy.

MITSCH: And we don’t need God because we can generate our own. 

But joy is based on something deeper: relationships with others and with Christ.

MITSCH: I think in the Christian life in our development and continuing cultivation of our relationship with God is really where that joy comes from so that it can be an ongoing stream in my life rather than depending on external events and other things I can accumulate and things I can control to say, “Okay, now I’m happy.” 

And that’s good news for those whose life circumstances feel out of control and don’t meet the standards of the happiness ranking.

MITSCH: You do the best you can with what you’ve got, and throw yourself as much as you can into the relationships you’ve got, and then perhaps you open your heart for an opportunity for joy. It’s not everything coming up rainbows and roses, but it’s a sense of being loved and connected. 

AUDIO: [Norwegian folk song]

As for those chasing the false promises of the happiness index, Mitsch has this advice.

MITSCH: If we remove sorrow from our lives, then joy doesn’t have a whole lot of meaning because we don’t have a contrast to it.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Jill Nelson reporting from Oslo, Norway.

(Photo/Creative Commons)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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One comment on “Happiness in the United States

  1. Sean Kramer says:

    I think this news story holds together only provided that the assertion that the happiness index is valid. That is a big assumption and what the United Nations thinks constitutes happiness I think is false.
    And I do find it curious that for my own travels through Germany and my friends travels through Iceland give to me this very strong impression that the people are either unhappy or extremely unfriendly My friend and his bride took a honeymoon in Iceland just two weeks ago and found the people anything but friendly or warm

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