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Calling for some kindness

The words “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are ensconced in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence. At a time when people in the new colonies struggled to meet basic needs, procure property and establish a free society, it is a bit puzzling that the Founding Fathers would list “pursuit of happiness” on an equal level as “life” and “liberty.”

We are almost 249 years removed from the time when those words were written. The United States of America has grown from 13 colonies to 50 states. Our population is more than 340 million people. We have been pursuing happiness for generations, but with mixed results.

In 2012, the first international report on happiness and well-being was released. “Happiness can change and does change according to the quality of the society in which people live,” said John Helliwell, founding editor of the World Happiness Report. The United Nations declared March 20 to be the International Day of Happiness, which coincided with this year’s release of the report.

“Rankings are based on a three-year average of each population’s average assessment of their quality of life. Interdisciplinary experts from the fields of economics, psychology, sociology and beyond then attempt to explain the variations across countries and over time using factors such as GDP, life expectancy, having someone to count on, a sense of freedom, generosity and perceptions of corruption,” the report said.

Results this year for the U.S. are mixed. Overall, our ranking in the list of 140 countries dropped from 15 to 23. For the first time, data was gathered and recorded by age group. For Americans under 30, the ranking dropped to No. 62 while those over 60 ranked at No. 10.

Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, director of Oxford’s Wellbeing Research Centre and professor of economics and behavioral science there, is also an editor of the World Happiness Report.

“Once again the World Happiness Report uncovers some special empirical insights at the cutting edge of the wellbeing research frontier,” she wrote. “Piecing together the available data on the wellbeing of children and adolescents around the world, we documented disconcerting drops especially in North America and Western Europe. To think that, in some parts of the world, children are already experiencing the equivalent of a mid-life crisis demands immediate policy action.”

Perhaps we as a society need to stop our hectic lives and think about our young people. Are we supporting policies that promote happiness and well-being for them? Are they receiving the health care they need, including mental and dental assistance? Do they live in a safe and healthy environment? Are their schools sufficiently funded? Can they afford higher education? Is their society one that projects kindness, generosity and respect for all? Is there joy, hope and peace in their lives? These are the qualities of countries that rank at the top of the happiness report.

Minnesota Public Radio interviewed Dr. Jon Hallberg, a Minneapolis family medicine specialist, about the report results. “I think that the countries that have strong social support generally, they’re happier. And I think a lot of times, we feel like we’re kind of left to fend for ourselves. And it’s really tough.”

Writer Francy Chammings is a retired English teacher and clinical psychologist who loves living in Carlton County.

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