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Are we really that unhappy? U.S. lags in world happiness rankings

A new report again finds Denmark is the happiest country in the world. (AP file)

With everything we’ve got in America, you’d think people in the United States would be happier. Not so, according to a new report that finds the U.S. is just the 17th happiest nation in the world.

“I think that part of the problem is because we’re number one in effect in the world, we’re the superpower, the weight of responsibility bears down on us,” says KIRO Radio’s Tom Tangney. “It’s our problem to try and figure out what to do about chemical weapons in Syria.”

Maybe that’s why Denmark again tops the World Happiness Report, published by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

Researchers used Gallup World Poll data from the the past three years to rank the 156 countries on things like healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices and social support. The report is based on how people feel about their overall satisfaction with life, not just their emotional state at any one time.

“It’s always the same bunch of folks. Big, tall, blonde hair, blue eyed folks,” laughs KIRO Radio’s John Curley.

So what’s the secret to their success? Lowered expectations. Curley cites a study that found Danes have low expectations about just about everything including their own happiness.

“It’s very Buddhist,” says Curley. “You don’t expect things to be better tomorrow and therefore you’re never surprised or disappointed. And if you’re never in a state of disappointment because you don’t expect things to get better then you’re okay. And then therefore, you are happy.”

Curley has his own experience with what researchers call the “hedonic treadmill.” It’s the tendency to grow disenchanted with something after a while, whether its something we did or bought.

In Curley’s case, he bought a Corvette when he was younger, certain it would bring him such happiness he’d never want anything else.

“He [the dealer] said to me as I drove away in the Corvette ‘you’ll be back in two weeks'” in search of more horesepower. “I said ‘no this is all I need.’ I came back two weeks later. You’re never happy with what you have and you’re always seeking that next thing.”

Along with Denmark, the top five on the list include Norway, Switzerland, Netherlands and Sweden. The bottom five are Rwanda, Burundi, Central African Republic, Benin, and Togo.

“To be fair, we’re 17th out of 156 countries,” Tangney points out.

So should we just give up on our dreams of doing better? Absolutely not, Curley argues. But should we lower our expectations?

“I do think lowering your expectations does increase your happiness quotient as long as you’re not so disappointed by lowering your expectations that you can’t be happy,” counters Tangney.

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