By Ronnie McBrayer
“There is something rotten in Denmark.” That is a centuries old phrase from William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” The Danish have smelled fishy ever since. But in reality, Denmark doesn’t stink at all. In fact, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and the Scandinavian nations of Northern Europe are officially the happiest countries in the world.
Annually, the Legatum Institute publishes its Prosperity Index that gauges the happiness level of the world’s countries. Consistently, Denmark, Norway and the Scandinavian nations are at the top of the heap. If you are curious, the United States is currently ranked 12th on the Prosperity Index. Not too bad, but our society as a whole is not as happy as it once was, and honestly I don’t think that comes as much of a surprise.
Happiness is affected by our environment. That much is true. Happiness is a product of our genetics (scientists say that an elongated 5HTT gene will make you happier on average than most). But ultimately, barring emotional or mental dysfunction, happiness is a choice we make. No, we don’t live in Scandinavia. We have no control over our chromosomal makeup. We can’t do anything about our age and very little to change our personal economics. There are simply some things we cannot change.
But, there are other things we can do something about. We can choose to live near our friends. We can decide to practice gratitude. We can do work we find fulfilling. We can opt out of the blame game, and quit holding God, life, circumstances, past lovers, ex-wives, former business partners, parents, and reality responsible for doing us in.
We can make choices that will lead us toward becoming happy, joyful people or we can make choices that will result in us becoming chronically unhappy people. Regardless, that choice belongs to each and every one of us.
It was Viktor Frankl, Jewish Holocaust survivor and Austrian psychiatrist, who best articulated the power of choice in personal happiness. Reflecting upon his time in the concentration camps he wrote, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”
If you want to be happy you don’t have to move to Scandinavia or wait for science to alter your genetics. But you do have to choose to be happy, and no one else can make that choice for you.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, speaker, and author of multiple books. You can read more and receive regular e-columns in your inbox at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.