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A Happy Country

Posted July. 23, 2010 11:28,   


The American thinker and writer Eric Hoffer (1902-1983), who formed his unique philosophy working as a wandering laborer, said, “The search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness.” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, professor at Claremont Graduate University in Southern California, said the moment that one forgets he or she is happy is the happiest moment. Even if a person gets what he or she wants after a lot of effort, satisfaction is temporary and eternal happiness seems nonexistent.

In a recent Gallup survey of 155 countries, Denmark was ranked the world’s happiest country. Countries in northern Europe comprised the top five with Finland second, Norway third and Sweden and the Netherlands tied for fourth. Korea ranked 56th and its people were deemed neither very happy nor unhappy. The U.S. placed 14th in joining the group of relatively happy countries but Japan (81st) and China (125th) were ranked lower than Korea.

The happiness of a nation’s people is likely influenced by subjective elements. If the majority of the people are pessimistic, they will have a low level of happiness. A bigger trend, however, is that people in war are definitely not happy. This is related to income level. Michigan University professor Ronald Inglehart, who has studied the relationship between democracy and happiness, says democracy does not increase happiness. A good example is Russia, a country where the people are less happy under a democratic government than they were under communist rule. Inglehart adds, however, that a country with happy people is more likely to develop into a democracy.

The low levels of happiness in Korea, China and Japan, three Northeast Asian countries with differing income levels, seem related to East Asian culture, which emphasizes social obligations and the group more than personal satisfaction. A country putting strong social pressure on individuals puts its people’s happiness on the backburner. The ranking of Korea above China and Japan on the happiness scale could signal that Koreans have grown more active in the pursuit of personal happiness, such through health or diet.

Editorial Writer Chung Sung-hee (shchung@donga.com)