Monday, May 11, 2009

Your Happiest Nations

I read last year's self-interested and shallow MUST-READ!!1! Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner with great interest, and I liked it. (Weiner, I assert, doesn't seem as self-interested as his book. His most ego-driven statement is something about considering himself "a grump," as the subtitle iterates.) Weiner's a correspondent and thus must convey his unbiased impressions of the locations to which he travels.
Which means an extraordinary series of repetitions and edits which prove his initial, tautologically obvious point: People are happiest in places where the people define happiness as being wherever people are happiest. Eventually, he gives enough reason to believe that the reader should be happy wherever the reader finds itself. A wonderful cop-out for the book itself, since true geographic happiness in the tome seems to need little more than a few nights in a decent hotel and somebody else to drive, to speak the language, and to translate the whining of bitchy locals into "Yes, of course ... 'happy.'"
I've been to more than a few happy "exotic locations" (humor me if you don't consider Mississippi or Newfoundland "exotic"), and although I have seen any number of extraordinarily blissful people, I generally attribute that to the band or drink specials. But one thing that I know about most of my mates is a simple, common, personality trait: they like being on the water.
Which is probably why several of the countries mentioned in a new report by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development are generally at or below sea level.
Granted, the article is from Yahoo!News -- so I was expecting beauty pageant contestants in non-nude but nonetheless "racy" pics -- but this is a story from an organization that actually studies the economic impact of things other than Hannah Montana. I mean, these guys gather 'round the capstan and talk about unemployment in Africa and food security. So, of course, Yahoo!™©! splashes the fluff piece that some PR wonk sent out about "nice" places to live. Here's the list, recited here for those who refuse clickage (particularly to places like Forbes, Inc. yecch):

  1. Denmark
  2. Finland
  3. Netherlands
  4. Sweden
  5. Ireland
  6. Canada
  7. Switzerland
  8. New Zealand
  9. Norway
  10. Belgium
Honestly. There's more coastline in that list than there are people. I make no pretense to studies of personal happiness as defined by geopolitical paradigms. But...
I have sailed with Norse, Kiwi, Swede, Dutch, and Danish nationals. In fact, the Swedes insisted that I call the fore "fockemast," which caused great hilarity among the bilinguals. The other darned Vikings refused to speak English at all because I refused to discuss the possibility of a Mighty Thor motion picture. And I found that the Dutch were just surly. But there was a reason for that, besides me not understanding the singularly odd rigging of their jib and steering mechanism: They were naturalized Americans, and thus had picked up the American habit of cranky dissatisfaction with everything.
Out on the waves, however, their countenances shone with a peace, a staggering sparkling contentment that knew no boundaries, honored no flag, pestered no other personality. A sea-going poet might ineptly proclaim that "the deck is a nation of comrades, a society of affiliates, a league upon the leagues."
We know better, but I like the place.
On The Beach, they're squabbling or glowering. But not at the helm or at the bow or even in their bunks, I do not romanticize or exaggerate; these are my mates, and it would be unfair to miscategorize them. I do not know how they fare socially in their homelands, except for the ones whose boats I docked and the few who show up in magazines every now and then.
But I know them as good hands. And: yes, happy ones.
Fellow citizens. Of a happy "nation."
Where the best flag to fly is anything that fills with wind.

1 comment:

Karie said...

Very nice post. Happiness can seem so elusive at times, yet the wind filling a sail can't help but bring a smile and a sense of peace...or even just being in a vessel as simple as a canoe, floating on a body of water.