Northern Europeans are the happiest people on the planet, according to a new survey.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says people in Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands are the most content with their lives. The three ranked first, second and third, respectively, in the OECD's rankings of "life satisfaction," or happiness.
There are myriad reasons, of course, for happiness: health, welfare, prosperity, leisure time, strong family, social connections and so on. But there is another common denominator among this group of happy people: taxes.
Northern Europeans pay some of the highest taxes in the world. Danes pay about two-thirds of their income in taxes. Why be so happy about that? It all comes down to what you get in return.
The Encyclopedia of the Nations notes that Denmark was one of the first countries in the world to establish efficient social services with the introduction of relief for the sick, unemployed and aged.
It says social welfare programs include health insurance, health and hospital services, insurance for occupational injuries, unemployment insurance and employment exchange services. There's also old age and disability pensions, rehabilitation and nursing homes, family welfare subsidies, general public welfare and payments for military accidents. Moreover, maternity benefits are payable up to 52 weeks.
Simply, you pay for what you get. Taxes in the U.S. have taken on a pejorative association because, well, we are never really quite sure of what we get in return for paying them, other than the world's biggest military.
Healthcare and other such social services aren't built into our system. That means we have to worry more about paying for things ourselves. Worrying doesn't equate to happiness.
The U.S. ranked 11th on the OECD list. In addition to the top three, we were beat out by Sweden, Belgium, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland and Norway. To be sure, we were ahead of France, Great Britain, Japan and China, among many others. But we can do better.
With the highest gross domestic product in the world, we are the richest country. On a per capita basis, though, we don't even make the top 10. The U.S. ranks 15th in this category, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Denmark -- maybe because they are happy -- ranked fifth. Other, more "satisfied" countries also earn more on an individual income basis. Oh yes, and the average workweek in Scandinavian countries is less than the U.S.'s
We need to take better care of ourselves.
It may not just be taxes, of course, that lead to happiness. There are other factors to consider. But better social services and less worry about having to pay for things such as medical bills, retirement and education do help with the happiness factor.
Yet, we are so dead set against paying more taxes that it's even spawning nationwide protests. Tea party, anyone?
Maybe it's time that we looked at taxes differently. We have to pay them anyway. So they might as well make us happy. If Northern Europe is any benchmark, the more we'd pay the happier we just may be.
Thomas M. Kostigen
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