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Avoiding U.S. spiral is key to Canada remaining happy

Canada has always finished ahead of the U.S. on the World Happiness Report, and the latest list is no exception: we’re at number seven, down one spot from 2016, while the U.S. is 14th, also down one spot from last year.

Norway heads the list, jumping up from fourth, followed by Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland.

The difference between Canada and its neighbour can be explained by our greater number of social supports, less pronounced inequality, less corruption in the electoral system and, thus far, fewer issues with immigration.

With our lower crime rates, cleaner cities, better education system and universal health care, to name a few, Canadians are known to look down smugly on Americans. On the other hand, we suffer from a national inferiority complex, often automatically assuming “American” means better – witness our eagerness to adopt U.S. culture, TV, movies, music and the like ahead of homegrown offerings. How many of us think better of actors, writers and business people who succeed in the U.S.?

Often, we tend to define ourselves in contrast to the U.S. There is a danger, of course, in putting too much weight on “not being Americans” – that is no way to form a strong national identity. Still, this report provides something of a welcome window to encourage some pride … without some of the over-the-top jingoism that clouds the issue – a development likely held in check here by our inherent politeness and pragmatism.

Yet we can’t rest on our laurels. Some of the same issues at play in the downward trend to the south can be seen here, including a general decline in trust prevalent in the U.S.

According to the happiness report, one of the main reasons for the distrust is the U.S. political system becoming more corrupt, dictated by the massive amounts of money involved, much of it from corporate donors and their lobbyists. Here, we’ve seen some particularly egregious examples of that type of thing from Kathleen Wynne and her government, for instance.

Also on the list of reasons for declining social trust is the growing wealth inequality. A longer-brewing factor is the surge in immigration dating back to the 1960s, the report finds of the U.S. A deterioration of services such as the education system has played a part, as have the events of 9/11 and the often-terrible after-effects they spawned.

As the timeline in the report demonstrates, many of these factors long predate Trump and even the dysfunctional partisanship in Washington. Generalized trust among Americans has been falling for decades. Trust in government has plummeted to the lowest level in modern history, consistent with the rise in the perception of corruption. Income inequality has reached astronomical levels, with the top one per cent of American households taking home almost all of the gains in economic growth in recent decades, while the share of the bottom 50 per cent plummets.

Pro-social behaviour has also dropped significantly in the U.S., whereas that’s not been the case in Canada, studies show.

While the U.S. has problems – among them the historical issues related to minorities, African Americans in particular – not applicable here, many of the social woes are progressing along a familiar trajectory. Staying happy means learning the lessons seen to the south.

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