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World Happiness Day – it's official

By Russell Grenning - posted Tuesday, 20 March 2018

I can hardly wait for March 20 – it's a Tuesday if you are wondering. Usually Tuesdays are one of those not particularly interesting days but this Tuesday will be very special.

I'm not absolutely sure what I will be doing but I can rule out, with absolute certainty, things that I won't be doing.

For example, I will push firmly out of my mind any thoughts about Sigurd Walden, the Swedish actor, Hawa Yakubu, the Ghanaian politician and Teru Manzo, the Japanese sumo wrestler. No doubt they were probably jolly decent types in their own way but March 20 is the anniversary of their deaths. So sad but dust to dust and all of that.


In fact, I intend to be happy and probably happier than I will be on any other day of the year. And no, that is not because I will be celebrating the birthdays of Manny Alexander, the Dominican baseball player, Isolde Kostner, the Italian skier or even Ethan Lowe, the Australian rugby league player. No doubt these worthies have lots of friends and relations to help blow the candles out on their cakes without having me butting in.

March 20 is International Happiness Day. It's been officially created by the United Nations so we have an obligation to be happy, don't we? And if you visit their website and enter your personal details you will receive at no cost – yes, free which can only add to your happiness - a "Happiness Guidebook", a "Happiness Pack for Kids" and the very latest "World Happiness Report". Oh joyous joy unbounded.

Mind you, it will be a pretty crowded day event-wise since it is also, among other things, International Astrology Day, World Storytelling Day and World Sparrow Day. Perhaps you could combine the lot and get happy by predicting that somebody somewhere will tell a wonderful story about lovely little birds.

I've been reading a very impressive document called "World Happiness Report 2017" which is a snappy little tome of 188 closely typed pages and every time you turn a page your smile will broaden. You could be forgiven for being in hysterics by the time you finish it. It's just that, well, happy. And it is chock-a-block full of happy inspirational sayings which initially made me think it had been prepared by the Hallmark card folks until I looked more carefully and read that it was compiled by professors and scientists who generally aren't to be found at the centre of any riotous behaviour.

This laugh-a-minute report is produced by an outfit called Action for Happiness and what a fun crowd they are. Mind you, on page one is a photograph of six, no doubt senior, funsters standing in front of the UN symbol and, somewhat regrettably, looking as if they are standing in front of a firing squad. No happy Janet, definitely not happy. Then again, it is a very serious business bringing happiness to the world. You really can't put your shoulder to the wheel, your nose to the grindstone or pull up your socks on the happiness front if you are congenitally frivolous.

"Action for Happiness" is, the document tells us, "a non-profit movement of people from 160 countries supported by a partnership of like-minded organisations". Now that is just fabulous for them and, happily, Australia is a member of this joyous band but there are 193 members of the UN and I wonder – in fact, I should care deeply – about those poor lost and probably unhappy souls in the other thirty-three countries. Well, actually I don't care all that deeply and, to be frank, I won't care at all on March 20 because that wouldn't be a happy thought.


Incidentally, it seems that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea – that's north Korea – is among the thirty-three nations not included and I am rather taken aback by that. Why, their spontaneous fun-filled marches just radiate happiness and their roly-poly leader Kim Jong-un is always wreathed in smiles. He seems to be the very epitome of happiness, the perfect embodiment of joy.

Not surprisingly, Thanos – the World Association of Funeral Directors – is not in the "Action for Happiness" crowd. Mind you, the Australian Funeral Directors Association which is our constituent body is winding up its four day national conference in Hobart on March 20 which is very neat timing and I'm delighted, happy even, that they can end their jamboree happily. I suppose it is just too bad if you die during these four days and your grieving loved ones discover all the funeral homes are shut which, all things considered, will only add to their sum total of unhappiness. Did you know that a person dies in Australia every three minutes and seventeen seconds? Now wasn't that worth getting out of bed this morning to learn that?

The name Thanos incidentally is a derivation of thanatology which is the scientific study of death and dying. I bet they have some exciting inspirational after-dinner speakers although it would be a challenge to find appropriate jokes for those speeches I suppose.

But back to International or, if you prefer, World Happiness Day.

The officially happiest country in the world is Norway with Australia a very creditable 9th on the list just behind New Zealand which is 8th. Israel is 11th and there is not one Islamic country at all in the top twenty. However, I have no doubt the United Arab Emirates, now ranked 28th will be soon be surging up the happiest nations list since its appointment of a Minister for Happiness in 2016. The Minister, a very attractive and supremely cheerful young woman, has been quoted as saying, "This is serious business for the government" which, on reflection, sounds a bit stern. There was even the faintest whiff of Hitler's "Strength Through Joy" movement which bought wonderfully organised happiness to all strictly racially pure heterosexual Aryan Germans (but very pointedly nobody else) back in the carefree 1930s.

The unhappiest country is, sadly, Burundi. In a tight race to the bottom, Burundi beat a host of other African countries and even war-torn Syria. The history of Burundi is one of coups, revolutions, oppressive brutal dictatorships, extreme poverty, mass starvation, violence and that semi-polite term for mass slaughter, ethnic cleansing.

But somebody there in their Tourism Department is very happy or, at least pretending to be happy, describing the country as "The Eden of Africa" and even "The Switzerland of Africa" which would come as quite a surprise to the Swiss. As far as I could ascertain Burundi doesn't manufacture high quality watches and clocks, doesn't have a solid reliable banking industry and there's not a good ski resort anywhere. Perhaps that tourism official is more delusional than happy.

"Action for Happiness" reports that things are not what they should be in the USA which fell from 3rd on the happy list in 2007 to 14th in 2016. It's one in the eye for the left-wingers among us for them to learn that the USA was far happier under President G W Bush than under President Obama. To again quote that groundbreaking "Action for Happiness" report this disastrous slump in the USA was caused by "declining social support and increased corruption".

Incidentally, and again I quote that report:

African people's expectations that they and their countries would flourish under self-rule and democracy appear not to have been met.

I am not prepared to say that the locals in Africa were happier before the white man laid down his burden because that would be racist and patronising – which are not happy thoughts – but perhaps one of the reasons these expectations haven't been met is because, as yet, most of Africa hasn't experienced democracy.

Things aren't going all that well in China either:

Current (happiness) levels are still, on average, less than a quarter of a century ago.

I'm guessing that no State owned operation did the survey there otherwise we would be reading that the comrades are overflowing with joy.

The Germans, bless them, have a wonderful word when it comes to one cause of happiness: schadenfreude. It means deriving pleasure from the sad misfortunes of others. Take it a step forward and it could become katagelasticism, the excessive enjoyment of laughing at others. I quite like both because it allows you to be happy when you think about nasty bastards you have known in the past and who have come a cropper.

And the good news is that come March 20 there will be a new updated World Happiness Report and, no doubt, with lots more uplifting and mirth-making slogans.

I have an entry:

Don't take life too seriously because you will never get out of it alive.

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About the Author

Russell Grenning is a retired political adviser and journalist who began his career at the ABC in 1968 and subsequently worked for the then Brisbane afternoon daily, The Telegraph and later as a columnist for The Courier Mail and The Australian.

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