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Godless happiness?

Posted by desicontrarian on June 5, 2009

Phil Zuckerman in Outlook magazine (4 Feb 2009).

In clean and green Scandinavia, few people speak of God, few people spend much time thinking about theological matters, and although their media in recent years has done an unusually large amount of reporting on religion, even that is offered as an attempt to grapple with and make sense of a strange foreign phenomenon out there in the wider world that refuses to disappear, a phenomenon that takes on such dire significance for everyone — except, well, for Danes and Swedes.

What are societies like when faith in God is minimal, church attendance is drastically low, and religion is a distinctly muted and marginal aspect of everyday life?

Although they may have relatively high rates of petty crime and burglary, and although these crime rates have been on the rise in recent decades, their overall rates of violent crime — including murder, aggravated assault, and rape — are among the lowest on earth.

But aren’t they a dour, depressed lot, all the same? Not according to Ruut Veenhoven, professor emeritus of social conditions for human happiness at Erasmus University Rotterdam. Veenhoven is a leading authority on worldwide levels of happiness from country to country. He recently ranked 91 nations on an international happiness scale, basing his research on cumulative scores from numerous worldwide surveys. According to his calculations, the country that leads the globe — ranking No. 1 in terms of its residents’ overall level of happiness — is little, peaceful, and relatively godless Denmark.

I have lived in a Scandinavian country for more than a decade. The main character of these people is their lack of excitability. The darkness and dampness through most of the year makes outdoor activities leading to crime are low.

But domestic strife, divorce, suicide and separation are high. They do not beat their children, which is good. But they do not let a new-born infant lie for a few days at-least next to the mother, as it invades her sexual privacy rights! The child is left in another room, with an electronic alert whenever she cries, so that the infant can be attended to. They use modern plastic diapers for their children, and do not regularly change the diapers. I think Indians, who leave their infants free of underwear, and clean them with water whenever they soil themselves, are more eco-frindly and sensitive.

The criteria of happiness used in the Veenhoven survey: 1) Freedom – Political & economic 2) Happiness – as expressed by themselves. If you read the survey you’ll see the extraverted and temporal nature of the questions.

One can easily see that these happy people actually equate material well-being with happiness. Material well-being is a fortunate circumstance, because these small populations have a lot of natural wealth. It is the opposite of what Malthus described. Take that away, and the Scandinavians would become another unhappy people of the world.

Selecting what you want to see is a great human habit. If I now select Tibet, I will see a different type of happiness.

Tibet is a nation in exile. It was not part of the above-mentioned survey. They are a poor nation. They have waged a non-violent struggle for independence which shows that they are the children of the Mahatma. They do not have material well-being like the Scandinavians. Their upbringing teaches the transience of material prosperity. They study the nature of their own minds. They contemplate mental virtues & vices. They research death, and prepare for it throughout their lives. And they are a happy people, even in exile and adversity!

See this article for more depth on the nature of happiness. Here is a better link.


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