Each Spring the United Nations releases it’s annual World Happiness Report. For the second year in a row Finland has been named the happiest country in the world. In fact all the Nordic countries dominate the top ten happiest countries. (At the risk of being irreverent here, I don’t think my husband would deem himself to be his happiest self if he resided in such a cold climate.)
The survey results indicate the U.S. has been on a downward trend. This year our country is in 19th place for overall happiness. Last year it was 18th, down from 14 the year previously. My pollster self was curious about what is causing this downward trend. According to author Anu Partanen, who is moving back to her native Finland from New York, “Finnish society has been built in such a way that people are supported and feel like they have control over their own lives”.
“Most people would like a life where they can afford health care if they get sick, where their children get a good education, where they can work and hopefully feel fulfilled in that work, where they can retire with confidence, while still being able to spend time with loved ones. It’s not that Finns are necessarily looking to become immensely rich. I think Finland just does a pretty good job of helping people achieve this lovely, ordinary life.”- Partanen
What a lovely statement- “A lovely ordinary life”. It feels like Americans are beset by anxiety. The current political climate in the United States contributes significantly to this stress.
Children receiving a good education and parents being able to comfortably retire piqued my interest in Partanen’s statement. CBS News recently aired a story entitled, Adult Children Are Costing Many Parents Their Retirement.
Half of American parents have cut back on their retirement savings to help pay their children’s bills. Parents are putting their kids’ car insurance, cell phone bills, credit card debt and health care costs ahead of their own need to grow their retirement funds.
The article notes that by the time these degree holders enter the workforce they are saddled with huge student loan debt hampering their ability to make milestone purchases, namely a house or the creation of a small business. The average monthly student loan payment is $400 or almost $5,000 a year. My son and daughter-in-law’s combined monthly payment is equivalent to a mortgage payment. This issue makes me crazy. They can’t even deduct the loan interest from their federal income taxes.
This creates a Catch 22 situation in which the shortage of retirement monies means a higher percentage of Baby Boomers are remaining or re-entering the workforce, (workers over 55 filled nearly half of all new jobs in 2018) and these seniors are holding jobs that could be held by young people. Thus, young people are more reliant upon the olders which translates to olders using retirement funds to help young people.
This paradox helps me understand why the USA’s ranking in the World Happiness Report is declining. I don’t believe the Finns are alone is desiring a “lovely ordinary life” where people are supported and feel like they have control over their own lives”.