“Happy! Do you take me for an idiot?” Charles De Gaulle famously replied when a journalist asked the great general if he were in that blessed state of mind.
Some say that the founder of the Fifth Republic was so curmudgeonly as to be Les Miserables himself (though that’s not a particularly good joke). But the man so given to the politics of grandeur was merely saying something that Orhan Pamuk would later write in his inimitable way: “Any intelligent person knows that life is a beautiful thing and that the purpose of life is to be happy…but it seems only idiots are ever happy.”
Clearly, De Gaulle was a thoughtful man with an enormous grasp of the great sweep of life and history. He probably would not have understood why a whole country the size of a continent is content to be described as the world’s happiest nation – and that too, three years in a row.
Now that the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has once again declared Australia the world’s happiest country, one might wonder if it is a reflection of national idiocy or a peculiarly Aussie state of being. Could Australia be dazed into imbecility by its miles of beautiful beaches? By weeks and months of glorious weather along the temperate south-eastern coast where most of the population lives? Could its armies of bronzed people (as seen on TV) have become ever more idiotically happy because they are assured the world’s fourth highest life expectancy (after Iceland, Japan and Hong Kong), lots of jobs and have a propensity to barbecue whenever possible? Admittedly, Australia has a happiness-inducing, seemingly recession-proof economy (the only major developed nation to avoid the global recession in 2009). Is that what makes a happy country the happiest of them all?
The OECD ranking is not to be taken lightly. Its so-called Better Life Index currently profiles the 34 OECD member countries and Brazil and Russia across 11 topics that collectively make-up a people’s well-being. These are community, education, environment, civic engagement, health, housing, income, jobs, life satisfaction, safety and work-life balance. Eventually, the ranking will also feature other key OECD partner countries – China, India, Indonesia and South Africa – thereby representing all the world’s major economies.
Speaking of major economic powers, I suppose the main point about Australia’s happiest-in-the-world status is that it is not the world’s biggest economy and the US is not the world’s happiest country. (The US is number six on the list).