How Happy Are You?

How Happy Are You?

It depends on where you live and what you do

Take a walk in the woods. I hope you find a place like this.

Recently I ran across a couple of articles about happiness. Since I'm interested in being happy myself, I read them both. The articles spoke to how I live and what I do, but not where I live. As it turns out, we can all do a couple of things to affect our happiness no matter where we live.


The first article is from the Washington Post. The title gets right to it: "The happiest, least stressful, most meaningful jobs in America." Suppose you are a lumberjack or a farmer. In that case, you work in what this article says has the highest levels of self-reported happiness and the lowest levels of stress for any major industry category. I thought, wow, that's quite a statement. Growing and killing plants for a living creates a sense of happiness and isn't all that stressful. Kinda cool.


Not so fast. once I actually read the article, it's more about the link between mental health and being out in nature that creates a sense of happiness. They also looked at the relationship between doing something meaningful and being happy. They found that healthcare and social workers ranked very high in feeling that their work was meaningful but also high on stress levels. Therefore, healthcare and social workers do not rate as happy as lumberjacks.


There is a lot to parse out in the Washington Post article. I would encourage you to click through the link and take a look. For example, religious and spiritual activities and being in a house of worship are the two things people rate the highest in bringing joy. As for the logger chopping down trees all day long, I learned that loggers also plant trees for future generations to harvest. That activity of planting has some real meaning when you consider carbon capture and the notebook paper that our grandkids will use after those trees are cut down decades from now.


The second article is based on the World Happiness Report, where Finland reportedly ranked number 1 as the happiest country for the fifth year in a row. The Finnish philosopher and psychology researcher, Frank Martela, wrote about the three things Fins never do that help them maintain satisfying lives.


First off, they don't compare themselves to their neighbors. That's an easy one on the surface. I hate to say it, but comparison drives our consumer economy. I feel that we Americans always compare ourselves without even knowing it.

Second, they don't break the community circle of trust. Fins are an honest and trustworthy bunch. Finland scored number one in the "Lost Wallet" test last year. Click through if you're curious to learn more.

Finally, they don't overlook the benefits of nature. Ahh, this is the one that caught my attention. Fins have four weeks of summer break. Mostly spent in the countryside, getting as far away from amenities as possible. The more basic and rustic, the better it seems. A survey in 2021 showed that almost 90% of Fins consider a relationship with nature essential to their health and well-being. 


I'm sure Finland is just fine and dandy - if you are Finnish. As it turns out, I live in America. And I feel like a very content person overall. These articles tell me why. My chosen profession has me going off-grid and into the wilderness for days or even weeks at a time. Friends, family, and complete strangers don't understand how I can be out in the backcountry without contact with civilization and not go crazy. It's simple, really. The further my curiosity takes me down a backroad, the happier I am. Deep in the woods, I can concentrate on creating photos without the distractions of everyday life. There is also peace and solitude for me to sit with my thoughts uninterrupted. It is a privilege I cherish. 


So that's it, get outside and be in nature. It's a walk in the park, as they say. Or go lay on the grass. That's all it takes to add a little happiness to your life. 

With the theme of this essay being about nature, here are three photos from my backcountry road trip last spring.

At the top of this page is an image simply of an area of wildflowers within a forest. Some would say it lacks a subject to focus on. Photos like this are not supposed to "work" for the viewer because of that. I remember hiking into this area and being struck by the beauty. It's moments like that which make nature so special.

Below is a pond at dusk. The landscape is serene, with just barely a ripple in the water. At this time of day, next to a pond, I like to sit and watch the fish come up and break the surface for a bite of dinner.

Finally, This photo of a river running next to a stand of trees is my definition of "awe." I had hiked along a ridge and came to a spot where I could see out across the valley below. I can remember standing there thinking, "Wow, just wow."


photo of a pond at sunset
I enjoyed watching the fish surface in this pond to get a bite of dinner

photo of a river running next to a stand of trees
From the ridge I was hiking on, it was difficult to find a break in the tree to take this photo.


Thank you for being here, otherwise I couldn't do what I do.