From time to time I ask myself the question: ‘Am I truly happy?’ For a Dutchman this should be an easy question. According to the World Happiness Report of 2019 (published by a department of the United Nations), which provides a ranking of 156 countries, the Netherlands takes fifth place among the happiest countries in the world (after Finland, Norway, Denmark and Iceland). In this report happiness is measured by looking at such factors as material well-being, social cohesion, life expectancy and freedom of choice.
So, I should count myself lucky to have been born in the Netherlands. Our prime-minister consistently emphasizes that we live in a marvelous country and that we should take good care of it. That may be the case, but, as I wrote in my previous blog, this marvelous country has some 38,000 homeless people. That is as many people as the number of inhabitants of a fair-sized provincial town. According to recent data the number of people that receive a monthly social security check is still just over 800,000 (almost 4,5% of the population). In a major speech our minister of finances stated last week that even many middle-income families are only one defect washing machine away from major financial disarray. [I sometimes wonder how I should interpret such data, when I see an explosive increase on the number of restaurants, and notice how more and more fellow-Dutchmen can afford two or three vacations per year.]
But, let’s go back to the question with which I began this blog. Am I a happy person? The answer depends one how I define happiness. In any case, I am not ‘perfectly’ happy in the sense that I do not have any problems; that I can fulfil all my material desires; that all my social relationships function optimally; that I am just as energetic as I was twenty years ago; that all my projects are one hundred percent successful and that there is never a day when, for some reason or another, I feel rather depressed.
However, I must admit that the world in which I live is not really a happy place. During the past few weeks I have been confronted several times with the finality of life and with the fact that there is an awful lot of sickness all around me. Moreover, there is major political unrest in the world. Examples abound. Just to mention a few the United Kingdom, Hongkong, Jemen and the Middle East (even though we tend to forget about that part of the world, since there has seldom been a time without serious trouble). Hurricane Dorian has left of wide swath of devastation on the Bahamas and (as I write these lines), continues to threaten parts of the coast of the Southeastern United States. No, seen from this perspective, our world does not appear to be very happy.
Nonetheless, when asked whether I am a happy person, I can respond positively. I have now been ‘happily’ married for almost 55 years. We have two good children and have been blessed with two nice grandkids. I still enjoy reasonably good health. I can look back on an interesting career with much variation. I continue to be involved with various meaningful projects. And my Christian faith provides me with a solid basis of meaning.
As we seek to define ‘happiness’, we should perhaps first of all let us be inspired by the beatitudes which Christ spoke as part of his ‘sermon on the Mount’. This helps us to discover that true ‘happiness’ is directly linked to contentment, gratitude, acceptance, having our focus on what is good and true. Happiness is found in trusting that we have our place on God’s world. Happiness, therefore, is first and foremost a hopeful confidence that, even when at times life is tough and brings us a lot of unhappiness, we are in the care of a loving power that lifts us beyond ourselves and the things that may trouble us. Those who do not believe this will have to be content with a very superficial kind of happiness—a bubble that can burst at any time.