(Thomas Froese Photo)
Jonathan and Hannah Froese share a laugh at the beach in Tel Aviv, Israel.

 

(The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday, August 4, 2019)

The funny thing is that it’s some of the ridiculously cold countries – the freeze the snot on your nose northern nations – that are the happiest. This is what they say. You know. “They.” I just read a report on it.

I don’t know. I prefer the beach, myself.

Child Number 2, the laughing boy, told me the other morning about a beach in Mexico. “I want to go there,” he said. He’d just dreamt about it, he told me. Or maybe he said, “I want a beef burrito.” When you’re a daily dad, some mornings the two can sound pretty much the same.

In either case, I laid out the good news to my boy that fine places can be found close to home too. Funny, human nature, how the grass always seems greener, the sand always softer, somewhere else.

Of course the big joke of family life is that parents pass on all sorts of baggage and nonsense to their children without knowing what on God’s earth they’re doing. Through my own love of bone-warming climate, plus a few family visits to foreign beaches while commuting from Africa over the years, the children have likely received some unrealistic beach expectations.

It’s something to think about because, between summer’s June 21 and Sept. 23 bookends, mid-summer just arrived this past week.

Mid-summer has also arrived in Norway, which apparently is now the world’s happiest nation. This, according to one of those global surveys, the sort that often rank Scandinavian nations as being so very happy despite the fact that, like Canada, they muck around in the cold and dark for way too long.

It’s the harsh weather, though, that can bring people together. Like at a Mennonite barn-raising, I suppose. Nobody asks who’s paying. You just get on with the business of it, in this case the business of building yourself a warm and well-lit place. This is why social safety nets tend to abound in colder places. Oil cash, which Norway has, doesn’t hurt either.

Which is to say that countries like Mexico and Norway both have their features. And which is also to say that happiness, it seems to me, is in your head as much as it’s in any place.

Imagine, for instance, you’re in Uganda. There you are. You meet a fisher. With his fishing rod and few fish, he’s resting in the shade of a beach tree. Being a Mzungu, a rich foreigner, you offer some advice: “You know, if you got a little boat, you could catch more fish,” you say.

“Why?” he asks.

“Well, then you can make more money.”

“Why?”

“Because you can get a bigger boat and hire staff and make even more money.”

“Why?”

“Well, then you can get a real fishing vessel with significant staff and bring in some serious capital, then buy an entire fleet of fishing boats.”

“Why?”

“Well,” you finally explain, “because then you can relax.”

“But I’m relaxed now,” he says.

Hmmm. Yes, the Mzungus have the watch, but the Africans have the time. And which brings more happiness? Not to discount challenges in developing nations. Child Number 3, our adopted Ugandan girl, would have lived a very different life in her native country.

Consider in neighbouring Tanzania, in Tanyankia, where the children couldn’t stop laughing. It was 1962, this laughing epidemic that lasted for months. Fourteen schools closed. Hundreds, mostly kids, laughed so uncontrollably, they cried. And the flatulence.

Seems the wild laughing was caused by intense feelings of low status and lack of voice during a tough time of transition. Uncontrollable laughter, say the psychologists, is sometimes the only way for people to express that something’s wrong.

Those children needed to re-orient themselves to the life they had. For their own well-being. And isn’t this what anyone, anywhere, needs to do? Otherwise you’ll fall prey to envy and thoughts of other people always having the good stuff. Then the anxiety. And depression. Such angst, strange enough, more than ever in the so-called rich places.

What you really have is this: your life. Your very own life. A life to plant and nurture and grow just where it is. Then, if you ever find yourself on the other side of some fence, just take your watering can with you to help the grass there too.