Tim Schnabel is a retired marriage and family therapist from Walton County.

Since 2002, the United Nations World Happiness Report has detailed the world’s happiest countries based on several factors: gross domestic product per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make your own life choices, generosity of the general population and perceptions of internal and external corruption levels.

The top five countries for 2020 are Finland, Iceland, Denmark, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

The United States ranked No. 14 and has never made the top 10.

Some of the themes leading to satisfaction include the taxes the population pays, “free” education and health care. In Denmark it includes “free” child care. In all of the top seven countries, there is a comfortable social security net.

There is a significant focus on the balance of work and family in the highest ranked countries. In Denmark the government requires all full-time employees, regardless of their position or type of work, a guarantee of five weeks’ vacation, which every employee is expected to take. When I was in private practice, I can’t count the number of times I heard a (macho) man say something like, “I never take all my vacation!” Like it was a badge of honor or something.

The U.S. has no federal paid vacation policy. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2019, 23% of Americans had no paid vacation and 22% had no paid holidays with their employment.

In the happiest countries, part of the formula for their high ranking is good paying jobs. The population earns a living wage. The populations also feel relatively safe and believe that their elected officials have the greater good of the population as their focus.

Now I am going to tell you what they don’t have … diversity. In Finland, a country of some 5 million people, only 50,000 are Black. In Sweden, a country of 10 million, their highest immigrant population is comprised of Finns, who look just like them! Black citizens from African countries are 111,000. The presence of other ethnic and racial groups is very low.

They also don’t believe the benign definition of socialism is evil: “Democratic socialism is defined as having a socialist economy in which the means of production are socially and collectively owned or controlled, alongside a democratic political system of government. Democratic socialists reject most self-described socialist states and Marxism-Leninism.”

The main difference is that socialism is compatible with democracy and liberty, whereas communism involves creating an “equal society” through an authoritarian state, which denies basic liberties. Democratic socialism in the west involves participating in democracy to seek an incremental reduction in inequality.

The taxes citizens pay in these happiest countries are higher than our federal income taxes, but lower when you compare two realities: We pay federal, state, local, sales and other “taxes.” The second is we have to pay for our health care. Health care costs are included in the happiest countries tax base, but not ours.

Last year Nancy and I paid a whopping $11,968 for our medical coverage: Medicare, supplemental insurance, prescription drug coverage, co-pays for medications, dental work, etc. While I am grateful we can currently afford our coverage, it sticks quite a bit that the medical services we received, had we been Finnish or Danish (and most other European countries), would have been covered by the taxes we had already paid. How many people can afford to pay $11,968 for health care? And how many simply go without?

One-third of GoFundMe requests are made for medical expenses. Our life expectancy is declining and we have the highest rate of child poverty of any developed country. Add to this tragedy that the U.S. has a significant higher infant mortality rate than the 10 happiest countries and in fact, all of Europe!

And socialism is evil? Not the kind of democratic socialism that is the foundation of the happiest countries year after year.

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