That the country whose founders made the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness a part of its Declaration of Independence dropped to 19th place this year in international ranking on the United Nations’ annual World Happiness Report should come as no surprise.
Well, to be fair, it was a bit of a surprise to me to learn that the UN released an annual World Happiness Report at all, considering all the hunger and strife that needs to be addressed. But it’s not hard to discern that it hasn’t been all rainbows and unicorns in the land of the red, white and blue in recent years.
In fact, the USA’s drop from 18th to 19th place in the ranking of 156 countries between 2018 and 2019 followed a six-position drop from 12th place that occurred in 2017, according to the UN report.
With a political scene that’s only become more toxic and tribal in recent years, widepread addiction to opioids and other substances, and a tendency to look less for the bright side of life and more at the flickering electronic devices in our hands, it’s no wonder we’re No. 19 and not No. 1.
What is a bit of a wonder is why the world’s No. 1 happiest nation is Finland, for the second consecutive year. As it turns out, Finland and its northern tier European neighbors dominate the UN’s happiness rankings, with Denmark, Norway and Iceland placing second, third and fourth, respectively, and Sweden chuckling its way to a seventh-place ranking.
According to the summary of the UN agency that produced the report, per capita GDP spending, healthy life expectancy, a strong social support net, personal freedom opportunities, a sense of safety and security, and an absence of government corruption were among factors used in the ratings.
I did a bit of Googling to see if I could find out what else made Finland so special, since it’s not a country I have spent a lot of time reading about.
I like the Finns’ affection for spending time in summer cabins at remote lakes or deep in the woods. I think the country’s affection for dense, bitter rye bread, pickled or marinated herring, or rye crusts stuffed with a sardine-like fish could take some getting used to. Bilberry pastries and fire-roasted reindeer sausages, on the other hand, look yummy.
The country of less than 6 million people doesn’t produce a bumper crop of international celebrities. On a list of famous Finns, I only recognized “Finlandia” composer Jean Sibelius, but I learned a little about Finnish film director Renny Harlin. He directed such American films as “Die Hard 2,” “Nightmare on Elm Street 4,” the unfortunate rock detective movie “Ford Fairlane” starring Andrew Dice Clay, and the pirate flick “Cutthroat Island,” awarded the Guiness World Record for Biggest Box Office Flop of All Time.
The Finnish national pastime, pesapallo, also known as Finnish baseball, has a lot going for it, compared its American counterpart, on which it is roughly based. For one thing, the game progresses quickly, with no time outs for batting or pitching warm-ups, umpire rulings or virtually anything else.
The winning strategy for the game favors precision hitting over power hitting. The game’s yellow ball is gently lofted vertically in close proximity to the hitter instead of hurled horizontally at three-figure speeds. Each team’s lineup includes three positions for “jokers,” sort of pinch hitters who can be added briefly to each team’s 9-player lineup for limited service.
Finland also has possibly the world’s least amount of organized crime activity, the most independent judicial system, the least pay differential between men and women, and highest likelihood of donating to charity.
So, where the Helsinki does that leave the USA? In my view, it would be worth a try to break into the UN’s Top 10 happiness list by bringing about some substantial changes in the way we roll and treat one another.
Or, since that takes too much time, understanding and effort, we could always cite the need to reclaim pesapallo and invade the place. We could use a national sport with a few extra jokers.