Spring is here, the perfect season, sandwiched between winter and summer, signaling a time of new beginnings. Flowers bloom, animals awaken from their cold-weather hiatus, and the planet and its human inhabitants spring back to life.
Technically speaking, spring is defined by Earth’s tilt toward the sun, relying on the equinoxes and solstices for definition.
Also technically speaking, the actual season began on Tuesday of this week, and lasts through June 21.
Spring also means Easter, which coincides this year with April Fool’s Day, Sunday April 1. No special reason for mentioning that, except that’s just the way it is.
Spring also seems to bring out the happy in people. We tend to smile more, laugh louder and talk more with others. Maybe we’re aping bear behavior, opening up after a long winter of hibernation.
We were thinking specifically of the Santa Ynez Valley recently when we came across a story on happiness, telling readers where the happiest places to live can be found.
Author Eric Weiner released his book on the subject a decade ago, having researched the happiest places on Earth. The book’s title is a mouthful — “The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World” — but the author’s conclusions are fairly straight-forward.
Weiner’s view was that folks in Northern European countries are generally the happiest, in large part because people living there demonstrate a decently-modulated emotional range. They don’t seem to experience the peaks and valleys of emotion that citizens of other countries face.
More recent research was conducted by the British Broadcasting Co., which ranked the top-10 happiest countries in the following order: Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden and Australia.
The BBC report was released just in time for World Happiness Day, which occurred this Tuesday, the first day of spring. The survey was based on several variables, including income, life expectancy, personal freedom, social support systems, trust and generosity.
Conspicuously absent from that top-10 list was the United States, which came in a respectable 18th overall. In a way that is disappointing because Americans always want to be first, in everything.
The British analysts reckoned the U.S. ranked so low because of a general decline in happiness due to weakening social support networks, corruption in government and commerce, and a plummeting confidence in our public institutions — despite what our elected leaders tell us. Other issues plaguing America include the opioid epidemic and obesity.
That seems a grim assessment, but given the rancor in U.S. politics and race relations, probably spot-on.
But depressing nonetheless. We prefer to focus on the happiness factor in Scandinavian countries — despite what Valley folk might consider rather depressing weather conditions, too little sun during the winter months, and too much sun in the summer.
One might easily discount the validity or worthiness of such surveys, in part because of the subjective nature of happiness and what makes people happy. But the showing by the United States does give us pause, reason to consider what we can do to make this a happier place.
We’ve given that some thought, and the best answers seems to be — listen more and talk less. When we talk, be as civil as the situation demands. No shouting. No insults. Strive for cooperation and compromise.
Not an easy assignment, considering the current political climate in America, and the degree and frequency to which our elected leaders go out of their way to insult and belittle each other.
Let’s go Scandinavian and modulate.