There is a general misconception in the UK that suicide rates are high in Sweden. “Must be those long, dark winters”, people will offer as an explanation. That misconception has been strengthened by the “Scandi-noir” phenomenon, the great success in Britain and elsewhere of compellingly gloomy murder stories produced by Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell, and the brilliant films and TV series based on them. Larsson and Mankell are Swedish. The addictive TV series The Killing, which stars a fascinatingly self-destructive female detective played by Sofie Gråbøl (below), is Danish.
Yet the latest World Happiness Database findings show something quite different. Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden all score in the top 10 of countries by happiness. Costa Rica is first and the others in the top 10 are Iceland (which seems pretty Scandinavian from a UK perspective), Switzerland, Mexico, Canada and Panama. All of these nations score 7.8 or above, out of 10.
The bottom ten are all African countries, with scores of 3.8 or lower (Togo comes bottom with 2.6). The UK is ranked 28th out of 149 with a score of 7.2. The USA is 21st with 7.4. Germany is 30th with 7.1. China is ranked 60th with 6.3.
Happiness is an elusive thing to measure, particularly distinguishing between the “how happy do you feel right now?” versus the “what is your sense of satisfaction with your life in general?” which can give somewhat different results. I’m not sure how seriously to take the database results. But it does suggest that producing dark fiction may be entirely compatible with having a sunny view of life.
My favourite quotation on the subject of happiness:
“When I was five years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” ― John Lennon
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