The United States Drops a Rung in Happiness Rankings

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The spring equinox marks the United Nations' International Day of Happiness. It's also a day after Miami ended the first homegrown World Happiness Summit (AKA WoHaSu), a three-day event that has the ambitious goal of making the Magic City the capital of happiness.

Today also heralds the release of the World Happiness Report, which ranks 155 countries. Norway is tops, followed by Denmark, Iceland, and Switzerland. The United States ranks 14th in overall happiness — down from 13th in 2016. It's still in the "Happy 20," which was the focus of a March 16 roundtable on increasing civic well-being.

What makes a country happy? The Scandinavians and the Swiss are doing the happy dance with "all the main factors found to support happiness: caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income, and good governance," according to the report.

The United States? "The reasons [for unhappiness] are declining social support and increased corruption... and it is these same factors that explain why the Nordic countries do so much better," the report notes. "The predominant political discourse in the United States is aimed at raising economic growth with the goal of restoring the American Dream and the happiness that is supposed to accompany it. But the data show conclusively that this is the wrong approach. The United States can and should raise happiness by addressing America’s multi-faceted social crisis — rising inequality, corruption, isolation, and distrust.”

Over the course of the day, Miami's particular challenges came to light, including immigration, income inequality, and climate change. Two locals contributed to the discourse.
City of Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado declared March 16 "Make Miami Happy Day" at Miami Dade College. The school boasted the largest undergraduate enrollment of any college or university in the nation in 2013 and enrolls more Hispanic undergraduate students than any other institution of its kind. Regalado suggested Miami is a place where immigrants come to find happiness. "This campus is the American dream. This campus is for dreamers,” he said. “People who come to Miami want their children to have better lives than them."

Miami-Dade Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho took to the podium after Regalado and criticized the State of Florida for focusing on standardized tests instead of “happiness and mindfulness.”

“Before we teach academic subjects, we must teach civic consciousness and compassion,” he said. An immigrant himself, Carvalho mentioned concerns about children of immigrant families living in fear of deportation and suggested that Miami has a long way to go as a compassionate city.

"Gleaming high-rises are built in the shadows of the greatest poverty that can be seen in this country,” he said, “where Bentleys roll in front of homeless people. The darker the tint, the higher the protection.”

Added guest speaker Nic Marks, a British fellow with the New Economics Foundation: "We're seeing communities like medieval cities, walled in, a re-barbarization. Income has gone down for those at 50 percent, and it doesn't make for a society that is structurally happy.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misrepresented the happiness rating of the United States. The country fell in the rankings this year. It did not rise.
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Miami native Maria de Los Angeles currently journeys in northern latitudes but is a correspondent for the Magic City. A community advocate, she pens stories about art, culture, good folks doing good things, women's issues, and only-in-Miami moments.

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