Don't worry, be happy … like the Finns
For the second year running Thailand was ranked 54th in the UN-sponsored World Happiness Report which covers 149 countries. It seems that although we have not quite descended into the depths of Les Miserables, Thai people are not exactly dancing in the streets with joy either. However, considering the Covid situation, one suspects there's not one country in the world that is particularly happy.
Topping the list once again is Finland, followed by Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland and the Netherlands. Rounding off the "happy top 10" are Norway, Sweden, Luxembourg, New Zealand and Austria. Even Inspector Clouseau might be able to spot a trend here, with the Kiwis being the only non-European country among the happy front-runners.
At the wrong end of the list is Afghanistan with Lesotho, Botswana, Rwanda and Zimbabwe in close company.
So how do the Finns manage to be so happy? After all, at times they experience extreme cold weather, not normally associated with a contented state of mind. According to the Finnish Embassy in the US: "Our happiness stems from a balanced everyday life, supported by good governance, trust, wellbeing and equality." There you are, it's not that complicated -- Government House please take note.
It is perhaps no coincidence that Finland also happens to be one of the five least corrupt countries in the world.
I have never been to Finland and know little more than it being advertised as the "Land of a Thousand Lakes", a very modest claim since there are actually more than 187,000 lakes in the republic. Forests cover at least 70% of the country which sounds quite healthy and probably explains why Helsinki is in the top 10 of the world's least-polluted cities.
As a kid I recall first hearing about Finland after the Helsinki Olympics in 1952. Incidentally that was the first time Thai athletes performed in the Olympics. The BBC's popular astronomy show The Sky At Night also had a Finnish flavour with composer Jean Sebelius providing the haunting theme music.
Perhaps the most curious fact is that Finland annually celebrates National Failure Day on Oct 13, when they list all the screw-ups from the previous year and assess how things could have been done better. Now, that's not a bad idea. Of course in certain countries that list might be a lot longer than Finland's.
Land of Smiles
You may recall that back in 2014, amid considerable fanfare, Thai authorities launched a bold "Return Happiness to the People" campaign, aimed at bringing back the smiles. For the next 12 months we experienced happiness concerts, happy haircuts, happy noodles, happy policemen, happy hedgehogs and so on. It was also free, something that always goes down well in Thailand.
A year later in the Big Mango we enjoyed a "Happiness Festival" promoted as "the biggest back-to-normal party Thailand has ever seen". It was all quite splendid and what a jolly lot we were, although it was perhaps wise not to dwell on what "back to normal" actually meant in Bangkok. It's stretching things to convince citizens that they can experience happy traffic jams.
Up to scratch
Searching for happiness is nothing new of course. In the 18th century French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau wote, "happiness is having a good bank account, a good cook and a good digestion." It's hard to argue with that. On a similar theme comedian George Burns observed "Happiness? A good cigar, a good meal and a good woman -- or a bad woman." American poet Ogden Nash saw things in a slightly different light noting that "happiness is having a scratch for every itch". That would wag a few tails. On a personal note, I would settle for a cold glass of beer, a cheese and pickle sandwich, the strains of Miles Davis wafting through and the dog licking my toes … admittedly not everybody's idea of nirvana.
Bach and Beatles
In 1962, Charles M Schulz, creator of the Peanuts cartoon, published a book entitled Happiness Is A Warm Puppy. It proved to be a big hit and the "happiness'' theme quickly caught the imagination of advertising circles, prompting a series of happiness ads.
One I particularly appreciated was "Happiness Is A Cigar Called Hamlet" with a character puffing a cigar to the strains of Bach's Air On A G String.
If you smoked Hamlet you were really a cool dude. A little more down to earth was the British Egg Marketing Board's "Happiness is egg-shaped". Among bumper stickers at the time one of the more popular was "Happiness is Being Single".
We must not overlook the Beatles song Happiness Is A Warm Gun, John Lennon adapting a headline he saw in a US magazine. "I thought it was an insane thing to say," Lennon said at the time. He was sadly spot on.
Welcome to the Happidrome
During World War II, BBC Radio aired a show called Happidrome. Set in a theatre it featured music hall-style singing and dancing and terrible jokes, designed to raise spirits during the war. It certainly put a smile on listeners' faces.
Perhaps when this Covid thing is over, instead of constructing yet another mall in Bangkok someone should build a Thai version of the Happidrome. Politicians could even make guest appearances as comedians -- they've certainly provided an abundance of unintentional laughs over the years.
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Bangkok Post columnist
A long time popular Bangkok Post columnist. In 1994 he won the Ayumongkol Literary Award. For many years he was Sports Editor at the Bangkok Post.
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