Those French know how to live
World's Happiest Places
What's the key to a successful society? We trim, blend, and blend two 2009 articles from: (1) Forbes, May 5, on where people feel positive by Lauren Sherman and (2) the Los Angeles Times, May 8, by the editors on the French.
by Lauren Sherman and by the Los Angeles Times editors
World's Happiest Places
Where in the world do people feel most content with their lives?
According to a new report released by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), a Paris-based group of 30 countries with democratic governments that provides economic and social statistics and data, happiness levels are highest in northern European countries.
Denmark, Finland, and the Netherlands rated at the top of the list, ranking first, second and third, respectively. Outside Europe, New Zealand and Canada landed at Nos. 8 and 6, respectively. The US did not crack the top 10. Switzerland placed seventh and Belgium placed tenth.
Did people feel like their lives were dominated by positive experiences and feelings, or negative ones? To answer that question, the OECD used data from a Gallup World Poll conducted in 140 countries around the world last year. The poll asked respondents whether they had experienced six different forms of positive or negative feelings within the last day.
Some sample questions: Did you enjoy something you did yesterday? Were you proud of something you did yesterday? Did you learn something yesterday? Were you treated with respect yesterday?
Why did the northern European countries come out looking so good? While the global recession has taken a toll on every nation, the countries that scored at the top still boast some of the highest gross domestic product per capita in the world. Denmark, which got the highest score, is not only a wealthy country, it's also highly productive, with a 2009 GDP per capita of $68,000. The United States' GDP per capita, by contrast, is $47,335, over $20k less.
Wealth alone does not bring the greatest degree of happiness. Norway has the highest GDP per capita on the list -- $98,822 -- yet it ranked ninth, not first. On the other hand, New Zealand's happiness level is 76.7 out of 100 on the OECD list, but its 2009 GDP per capita is just $30,556.
The OECD data shows that another important factor is work-life balance. While Scandinavian countries boast a high GDP per capita, the average workweek in that part of the world is no more than 37 hours. In China, which got a low score of just 14.8, the workweek is 47 hours and the GDP per capita is just $3,600.
Low unemployment also contributes to happiness. Denmark's unemployment rate is just 2%, according the C.I.A.'s World Factbook. Norway's is just 2.6%. The Netherlands: just 4.5%. The US' is currently 9%.
JJS: A key factor, overlooked, is the wealth or income gap, which can make the world seem unfair. The US has a far wider gap than Northwest Europe, including France.
Those French know how to live
There's a reason French terms like "manicure" and "haute couture" have made their way into English.
The French spend more than two of their waking hours each day eating, about twice as long as Americans do. Yet, despite all that brie and Bearnaise sauce and mousse au chocolat, they're far less likely to be obese -- 10.5% of the adult French population compared with 34.3% of American adults, according to the OECD's 2009 Society at a Glance.
The French on average sleep about nine hours a night, more than people in any of the other 29 nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Koreans are at the other end of the spectrum with about seven hours a night. Americans like to get their eight hours.
Eating and sleeping fall under the broad category of "personal care," in which the French lead the world. The French on average labor 37 hours a week in paid jobs compared with 41 hours for Americans, which comes out to hundreds more hours per year for the French to do je ne sais quoi.
When he came into office two years ago, Nicolas Sarkozy -- whose flashy dress earned him the nickname President Bling Bling -- promised to make France busier. He did manage to extend the 35-hour workweek, pass some tax and pension reforms, and impose some strike restrictions.
Sarkozy might want to reconsider, because all that French eating, sleeping, and grooming seems to be paying off in a longer life span -- second only to Japan and well above the United States. We may be snarky about those well-rested, thin people across the Atlantic, but then, truthfully, in our next lives, wouldn't it be nice to be French?
JJS: We could do it this lifetime were we to adopt geonmics, which two centuries ago the French called “physiocracy”. Employing that system, the economy would finally work for us instead us for it. How? We’d eschew taxes in favor of recovering and sharing society’s surplus -- all the money we spend on the nature and locations we use. It’s worked wherever tried.
Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.
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