“Finland is the happiest country in the world,” a Finnish reporter happily announced in Donald Trump’s news conference with the president of Finland.

Not knowing where the reporter was going with that curious announcement, President Trump agreed, “Finland is a happy country.”

“What can you learn from Finland,” the reporter asked, “which has a social-democratic . . . .?” The official White House transcript says that whatever followed “social democratic” was “inaudible.” Social democratic form of government, perhaps?

Taken back, Trump answered with an off-the-wall non sequitur: “Well, you got rid of Pelosi and you got rid of Shifty Schiff.”

Setting aside the tantalizing mention of something “social democratic” and Trump’s odd response, the reporter was right: Finland is the happiest country in the world, declared so by the United Nations.

In March the U.N. published its annual World Happiness Report. Yes, the U.N. publishes an annual report on happiness around the world.

Using information from the Gallup World Poll, the U.N. ranked 156 nations from most happy to least happy. The wording of the question encouraged respondents to think in terms of life satisfaction rather than in terms of a more superficial, transitory emotion.

The U.S. ranked 18th in the 2018 World Happiness Report, 138 places ahead of Burundi, which has the unenviable title of the unhappiest country on Earth, but behind the leaders: Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden and Australia.

Aside from getting rid of Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff, what would it take for the U.S. to break into the top 10, which it has not done since the research began seven years ago?

Comparing the top 10 happiest countries with another annual ranking of nations will give us a clue.

For the last four years the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania has conducted research on the quality of life in 80 countries around the world. The research examined affordability, quality of local job market, economic stability, family-friendliness, income equality, political stability, safety, the quality of public education and public health systems.

It should come as no surprise — in fact, it is common sense — that nine of the top 10 Happiest Countries were in the top 10 countries with the highest quality of life.

To state the obvious: People who live in countries where the quality of life is high — where a decent standard of living is affordable; where quality jobs are available locally and the gap between the top and the bottom is perceived to be fair; where communities are good places to raise children; where the political and economic systems are stable, and citizens feel safe; and where the public education and health systems are efficient and within the reach of average citizens — are happier/more satisfied with their lives than people who don’t live in countries where the quality of life is high.

In terms of quality of life, the U.S. ranked 17th, in spite of having the No. 1 job market in the world and the second-ranked public education system. (I gotta see the raw data on that one.) The U.S. scored in the bottom half of nations in affordability, income inequality and safety.

Jeffrey Sachs, professor of economics at Columbia University and one of the editors of the World Happiness Report, said, “I think there really is a deep and very unsettling signal coming through is that the U.S. society is in many ways under profound stress, even though the economy by traditional measures is doing fine.”

Life expectancy has declined. The political divide has deepened and become bitter. The U.S. is among the world’s leaders in obesity, substance abuse and depression (we have the highest rate of antidepressant use in the world).

If you want to make America great again, there are plenty of places to start, none of which involve building walls.

Oh, Sachs also pointed out that most of the top 10 happiest countries are social democracies which “believe that what makes people happy are solid social support systems (and) good public services.”

I see that hand. Since when has the happiness of its citizens been the business of government?

Since 1776 actually.

The Declaration of Independence claimed that human beings are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Governments are “instituted among men” for the purpose of securing those rights.

Anyone who has a problem with that should take it up with Thomas Jefferson. Or Sauli Niinisti. He’s the president of Finland.

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Richard Groves is a former pastor of Wake Forest Baptist Church and former adjunct instructor at High Point University.

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