Unhappy news for nation

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 8, 2013

One of the more irritating popular songs of recent decades was “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin. Just mentioning the song risks putting the simple lyric in your head, to be repeated over and over until you worry it will never end and you will never be happy.
Sorry, but that song is pertinent to the topic today — which, you will be happy to know, is happiness.
And why not? Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence put the pursuit of happiness next to life and liberty among the inalienable rights endowed by the Creator.
So how is our pursuit of happiness working out? Unhappily, not too well.
In a recent survey, the prestigious Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development put the United States at only No. 6 among the world’s developed economies in its Better Life Index, which measures happiness criteria such as jobs, income, housing, health, the environment and life satisfaction.
No. 6! That’s not happy news. More alarming, Australia ranked No. 1, for the third year running. Crickey! Sweden was No. 2, but young immigrants to Sweden immediately cast doubt on the survey’s accuracy by rioting for several days. If you had to eat fermented herrings you might riot, too.

On hearing the news, an office wag posed the question: Reg, did Australia become so happy because you left? It is possible, but that raises another question: Did America become so unhappy because I came?
Whatever my goings and comings have wrought, I’m in a unique position to judge the state of comparative happiness across the ocean. Let us consider first what makes the people Down Under so darn happy.
It is true that Australia has weathered the global financial crisis well up until this point. By the way, Australians universally call that crisis the GFC because Aussie words are often shortened, just in case the alphabet runs out of letters. So if rellos (relatives) come over to watch the footy (football) on TV, they may discuss the GFC.
But a prospering economy based on abundant resources — iron ore, bauxite, wheat, sheep, beer — does not explain it all, nor does the dastardly socialistic practice of providing good universal health care, including generous benefits to young mothers. There is also the matter of attitude.
In Australia, everybody says “No worries.” This could be the national slogan, although other sayings convey the same message of unrealistic optimism. For example, they might say “She’ll be right” after your truck slides into the billabong.
“No worries” is an expression that defies reality. To live in Australia is to live in an environment full of potential peril. Some of the world’s most venomous snakes live in Australia — the death adder, the taipan and the tiger snake. It also has poisonous redback spiders, which in the old days used to frequent outhouses — a double horror, because if you got bitten on the bum nobody would suck the poison out.

In the north, deadly little jellyfish lurk and huge saltwater crocodiles lie in wait to gobble up fat tourists — or even thin ones on a slow day. Then there are the bush fires — bloody great conflagrations that would burn the socks off a wombat. Did I mention the sharks, in case you jump into the sea to get away from the fires?
It’s a wonder anybody survives Australia, but I managed it somehow, although not without having some marsupials turn nasty on me. So I came to America, leaving behind a continent where happiness is not pursued but lived, to live in one where too many people use their great gift of liberty to pursue grumpiness, just to spite the eternally wise Thomas J.
I blame politics for this. Politics is our diet of fermented herrings. You should see my emails.
Now some wise guy will write to me and say, “If you like Australia so much, why don’t you go back there?” Well, obviously, because I am afraid that my truck will slide into the billabong and Bobby McFerrin won’t be around to help push it out, which is fair enough given the crocodile danger.
All I am saying is that my adopted home can learn something from the no-worriers Down Under. If we laugh and don’t take ourselves too seriously, we can be No. 1 in happiness, no worries. Join me in a chant please: USA! USA! Happy! Happy! Happy!

Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post. Email: rhenry@post-gazette.com.