Saturday, September 5, 2009

"The Happiest Place on Earth"

I just had one of those cognitive dissonance moments. I was reading a writer I admire, namely Peter Bregman, discuss how to escape perfectionism. A good topic for a column, I thought to myself.

Given that, as the old saying goes, the perfect is the enemy of the good, and given that I am in favor of the good, I was looking forward to reading the piece. Link here.

Truth be told I was gobsmacked, as they say in England, to read that a happiness expert had just discovered that Iceland was "the happiest place on earth."

How did Icelanders earn this dubious distinction? Bregman tells us that they do not stigmatize failure. They are not afraid to fail, and thus they rush right in where more judicious hands would fear to tread. As Bregman puts it: "they pursue what they enjoy." This being the case, he continues: "Iceland has more artists per capita than any other nation."

Bregman quotes one Eric Weiner, author of a book on happiness: "There's no one on the island telling them they're not good enough, so they just go ahead and sing and paint and write."

Bregman summarizes the lesson he draws from the happiest place on earth: "So if you think you're good at something, whether or not you are, you'll do it."

Reading this I felt like I had entered a dopey version of Paradise. Discomfort would not begin to describe it. I was shocked and shaken that so intelligent a writer could completely ignore the fact that a year or so ago Iceland was just about completely destroyed by precisely those qualities that make it so appealing to happiness researchers.

As I read Bregman's article, I was recalling Michael Lewis's description of the catastrophe that is Iceland. Lewis described Iceland, its financial recklessness, its culture, and its people in a great article that was published a mere six months ago in Vanity Fair. Link here.

I recommend that everyone re-read Lewis's article carefully. Nothing about the people of Iceland contradicts the description given by Bregman and Weiner.

What Lewis saw, with exceptional perspicacity, is that these creative free spirits, possessed of an overweening self-esteem, feeling that they must be good at international finance, jumped right in to that world, thoughtlessly and mindlessly, and destroyed a nation in the process.

Since I have written more than a reasonable number of posts arguing that the nostrums offered by the therapy culture created a mindset that contributed to the financial collapse, I am both interested and chagrined to see how it all played out in the laboratory that is Iceland.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ignorance is bliss?