Who said the American Dream was dead?
Americans are in fact happy, according to this year's World Happiness Report (which, yes, is a thing, and is in its second year of existence). Just not as happy as sixteen other countries, most of which are Northern European — but 17th place of the 156 countries evaluated isn't half bad, eh?
The report flies in the face of a spat of studies and articles in the last few years, all presenting a variant of "Why are Americans unhappy?" and "Most Americans are miserable." The issues that have been attributed to said misery: a lack of trust in Congress; a lack of faith in the news media; despair about the crawling-back-by-inches financial climate; job hatred... you name it.
In fact, happiness "guru" Gretchen Rubin reportedly said that Americans were the most unhappy people in the world. The World Happiness Report disagrees. The report builds on a 2011 resolution by the United Nations to place emphasis on citizens' happiness and general well-being, and respondents fall into four categories: Deeply Happy, Extensively Happy, Narrowly Happy, and Unhappy. (That sounds like a fun magazine quiz: What Happy Are You?)
Happiness, from the UN's perspective, doesn't reflect temporary joy, but a more general sense of satisfaction with life and circumstance. And it looks like we're all getting a bit happier, year by year: the last round, between 2005 and 2011, saw lower levels of happiness reported across the board. Americans are officially happier than those in France, the United Kingdom, and Japan. At the lower end, African countries sit unhappily in last place: Rwanda, Burundi, the Central African Republic, Benin, and Togo all rank at the bottom.
The top five happiest countries are of course the frigidly-functional Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden, and the Netherlands. The report notes that this sense of general well-being should be integral to how nations' progress is marked. According to the report: "Happy people live longer, are more productive, earn more, and are also better citizens. Well-being should be developed both for its own sake and for its side-effects."
Still, happiness is a slippery term, and one difficult to define: there have been suggestions that the search for meaning is a more worthwhile and satisfactory path than merely "becoming happy," and that meaning in fact could help you live longer. And on the other end of the spectrum, miserable people appear to live longer, because they tend to take less risks. So, uh... just do you.