The ‘greatest’ country in the world is not the happiest country, according to the World Happiness Report 2017 that was recently released by the United Nations. Among 155 nations it ranks thirteenth. On this year’s Happiness Index Norway scores highest. I had the pleasure of spending last weekend in the second happiest nation on earth: Denmark. (It was indeed a very pleasant weekend!).The places 3-10 are taken by Iceland, Switzerland, Finland, Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Sweden. Lowest on the happiness ladder were some African nations and Syria.
A large number of factors is taken into consideration. Economic factors such as income and employment are important, but also social factors, such as education and social life. Mental and physical health, not surprisingly, play a crucial role.
It is, of course, very gratifying to know that I live in one of the happiest countries on earth. Moreover, research undertaken by Unicef, indicates that Dutch children are on the average happier than children anywhere else. On the happiness index for children the USA occupy the 26th place.
The prestigious Huffington Post reported last year that religious people tend to be happier than non-religious people. Interestingly, it was found that Hindus score higher than Christians!
If all this is true than I may indeed call myself ‘happy’, as I am a Christian living in one of the happiest nations on earth.
However, we are left with some big questions. The data of the Happiness Index tell us that the happiest countries on earth are also the most secular and least religious countries. And even in those very happy countries lots of people lead very unhappy lives. Moreover, I know of many non-Christians who look a lot happier to me than many of the Christian believers around me. I cannot ignore that I also see many distinctly unhappy people in the faith community to which I belong.
I have travelled extensively in countries that top the list and in countries that are at the bottom of the list. I have the sense that perhaps too much weight is placed on the economic factors. I have met many very content and happy persons in ‘poor’ countries, who do not have all the things we tend to associate with a happy life. And it would seem that religious faith often plays an important and positive role in their lives and makes them surprisingly happy.
When all is said and done, I do indeed consider myself fortunate—in spite of the worries and concerns that I do have. Together with my wife I live in reasonable comfort. We are still in relatively good health and continue to live an interesting and fulfilling life. We give and receive love and attention from people far and near. We are part of a pleasant local church community. Yes, we are privileged and have much to be grateful for—certainly when we compare our situation with most other people—in particular in other parts of the world. But, whatever the Happiness Index says, I remain convinced that for us the religious component is and remains an essential component of our happiness.