Dave Smith: Pursuing Happiness…

To the Editors: The AVA, UDJ, WN

Are you happy? Chances are, if you live here in the United States, you are not. Despite the enshrinement in our Declaration of Independence of the phrase “Pursuit of Happiness” as one of the sovereign rights of mankind, we are way down on the list of the happiest countries in the world. In fact, we are not even in the Top 10.

According to a study by “24-7 Wall Street” that looked into the OECD’s Better Life Index to determine what the happiest nations on the planet are, it turns out that the happy nations spend far more of their GDP on social programs than we do here in America. The study examined quality of life things such as health, education, housing, the environment, jobs, community, work life, and income to figure out what truly makes a nation happy.

Old, stable nations of northern Europe took five of the top 10 spots on the list. These include the “socialist” Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Norway, and Denmark, all way happier than we are down the list at number 19.

Does it surprise you that the happiest nation, Denmark, also has the highest taxes of all?

As we are continually warned and berated by the tiresome scolds in our local opinion columns and letters to the editor to fear those who hold firm on providing a basic social safety net for the least among us, we must ask ourselves what motivates such a steadfast and determined assault on our personal and community happiness.

Dave Smith


It’s just a mantra they keep repeating. They are fear based and know not of what they speak.

Would it also be coincidental that the same ‘socialist’ country’s ruling bodies that have the most contented societies and quality of life also put the best interests of the family and community as the top priority in their spending and actions?

Also in my travels I have continually been amazed to find the most happiest of all peoples are the ones who have the least amount of material wealth, yet hold and value strongest family and community bonding.

What’s so bad about socializing anyway?

I love socializing in all of its forms!
Being with family and taking time to have fun with people in my community- these are the things that make life worth living.
Maybe we are so “unhappy” because we work such long hours just to make ends meet. After a long work day we have no time to play or do what is best for our families, like cook food and sit down to eat!

OK. The gist of this is right, I guess. But is this the argument we need to be having right now? The fact is the State of California is bankrupt, and getting more so. Ditto the United States of America. I know. I know. If we only stopped those stupid wars, brought the troops home, and severely curtailed the Pentagon’s budget, we would have all that surplus to spend on social programs. But you and I and all the rest of us know what those programs would look like, if they ever got passed. So maybe we should start talking about how to do some of these things ourselves, with local resources, and loosening our ties to these states that don’t work.

And let’s also be realistic about statistics like these. They are based on mindless questionaires (of the sort I spent part of my ex-professional life critiqueing) and comparisons among non-comparables. Are Danes really all that happy? I spent nearly a year there, spoke passable Danish, and felt that most of the Danes I met were pretty tame, pretty complacent. Is that happiness? It could certainly lead them to say that, yes, all things considered their lives were pretty good.

Also the politics. While Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and even Norway might plausibly be called social democratic (socialist), even when ruled by right-wing parties, the Netherlands looks much more like the United States and England, though, like England, it has a passable public health system. Do passable public health systems make people happy? Maybe. In the Americas, though, last time I looked, the “happiest” society was Costa Rica’s, which, yes, has pretty accessible health care, but of a sort that couldn’t be compared to, say, the UK’s (or Cuba’s).

Are these our choices? Public health care or private? Social welfare systems for all or social welfare systems for the stigmatized poor? Can’t we start another conversation that doesn’t depend on a now illusory font of ever-increasing national wealth?

    Unfortunately, Michael, we often can’t choose our arguments. The constant bombardment of disinformation and lies, especially when election season rolls around, begs for reply and facts. I don’t know if you read the Ukiah Daily Journal, but we have some local conservatives who have taken it upon themselves to “educate” us all on a regular basis. Their columns are full of straw men, ad hominem fallacies, lies, and silliness. Yes, we need more adult conversations, and our Transition Ukiah Valley group had one Monday night around the film The Economics of Happiness… and we had another conversation last Friday night at Plowshares led by Doug Mosel around dealing with our personal despair with what is happening with our world. But we cannot just sit by and have these conservative morons keep poisoning our conversations with their fabrications and bullshit without, once in awhile, asking what their true motivations are… Dave

A small dissent: A bit ago, Greece was flying high. Northerners were purchasing houses and properties big time and the housing boom was making many Greeks rich on paper. Socialism and big government were in full flower, but with no industry underpinning. I’d guess that Greeks were then pretty happy people, they struck me as naturally so. Then came the crash. Now they are very unhappy. Socialism requires serious industry to provide stable funding, which the US doesn’t have. Fed government loans simply won’t cut it for very long before inflation eats all the happiness away. Government is surely not the answer.

Dave, here’s an example. The Willits Unified School District Board, in recognition of yet another shortfall in expected revenues from the state, decided (pending their lawyer’s approval) to lay off all District employees for 5 days, shortening the school year once again.

Bold and imaginative thinking, no? Isn’t it time to recognize the obvious, that the system is not working, that the finances are not there, and that we have to start over? Not a bad idea in the case of schooling, which IMHO was a bad idea to start with. Start with high school, why not? since that is where the cancer is most apparent. Organize apprenticeships, internships, work-study opportunities, whatever. Get the kids out of those damned buildings! Tell the state Department of Education to go to hell. Tell the County Department of Education to go to hell. Try a new model.

Besides addressing the numerous ills of schooling as we know it, imaginative thinking might also allow us, God forbid! to talk to those conservatives who have been saying “Why do we need to spend millions on a state Department of Education? Why do we need to spend, what? billions? on a federal Department of Education?” Let’s all get together and figure out what the kids need and go from there. Hard work, no doubt, but made easier if we put aside our dubious faith in public incarceration of the young and central state dictated curriculums and decide to actually talk to one another.

Although I’m not from Ukiah, I do reside in California….

I personally believe there is value in simplicity… that all the busy-ness that’s pressured upon me in order to sustain is depreciating my level of peace and happiness. I don’t want to stress or use my time towards things that I feel fattens someone else’s pockets, that takes my time away from my family to make it easier for another to spend more time with theirs. It feels sincerely wrong to make other things priority over my family and it steals away my health and well being. Unfortunately my husbands passing a few years back makes me even more susceptible and vulnerable to the pressures of our society. But I do want to contribute, to give, to share my talents and skills. How can I do that without feeling that my energy is being taken advantage of? This question is mine that I struggle with everyday in order to find my balance. My resistance to give in is my secret joy.

Thanks Dave for the post…it gave me food for thought to mull over in my resistance.