Climbing the ladder of happiness

world happiness report

If you imagine a ladder whose rungs are numbered zero to 10, and zero represents your worst possible life and 10 represents your best, which rung would you be on? 

This is the question asked of people around the world every year for the World Happiness Report. Last year marked the tenth anniversary of the report which uses global survey data to report how people evaluate their happiness in more than 150 countries. The study researchers will reveal the results of the 2023 report at noon tomorrow, March 20, the International Day of Happiness.

What’s interesting is Finland has ranked #1 for the past five years in a row, followed by Denmark and Iceland in second and third place in last year’s report. Switzerland, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Sweden, Norway, Israel and New Zealand all ranked among the top 10 ‘happiest’ countries in the world. Canada ranked 15th and the US 16th.

I dug a little deeper to understand why Finns have ranked #1 for the past five years. I’ve never been to Finland, and have only had a few Finnish friends over the years.  

Finns are not exactly known for their exuberance. There is a Finnish saying, ‘If you’re happy, you should hide it”. Their happiness manifests itself as more of a deep contentment, part of their hygge culture.

One thing the study illuminates, and is true in all the northern European nations who rank the happiest every year, is having access to the basics is a strong baseline for happiness.

In Finland, everyone has access to guaranteed health care, tuition-free school, a living wage, affordable housing, and free universal daycare from eight months until the start of formal education at age seven. It also doesn’t hurt that all Finns get five weeks of vacation every year.

But a key reason why Finland ranks #1 each year is their emphasis on family, friends, relationships and not on accumulating wealth or material possessions. They have their priorities straight.

This week’s #HappyAct is to watch for tomorrow’s report and ask yourself the question, which rung would you be on?

Ed note: If you’d like to read the full report, go to I highly recommend taking 20 minutes to read a few of the sub-reports which are fascinating. For instance, in the report “Exploring the biological basis of happiness”, the researchers concluded that genetics does play a role in happiness. In fact, one study that tracked the lives of identical and fraternal twins found remarkably, that identical twins who were reared apart (100% genetically identical, no shared environmental influences or experiences) turned out to be more similar with respect to their well-being than fraternal twins who grew up together.

Another study on optimism during the pandemic found that while most participants experienced decreases in their optimism and meaning in life during COVID-19, for more than a third of the participants, their levels of optimism and meaning in life remained stable. Fascinating stuff.

May the force of sleep be with you

Darth Vader meme, "Worst case of sleep apnea ever"

Every night, I get to sleep with Darth Vader.

A couple of years ago, Dave got a CPAP machine. When he sleeps, it sounds like the white noise through a stormtrooper’s mask. I keep hearing “Luke, I’m not your father” in my dreams. The good news is I don’t have to listen to him snoring anymore.

But the machine has helped him sleep which is a good thing.

You see the problem is, we’ve become a nation of insomniacs.

Experts from the Royal Ottawa Institute of Mental Health Research estimate that half the population in Canada now struggles with some sort of sleep-related problem. This week, we’ll all feel the pain of sleep deprivation thanks to the time change.  

March 17 is World Sleep Day. While most Canadians will be focused on the luck ‘o the Irish and swilling back green beer, we’d have far more luck in life if we took steps towards better sleep health.

Sleep is one of the three pillars of good health, along with nutrition and exercise.

The guidelines recommend adults between the ages of 18-24 get 7 to 9 hours of good-quality sleep a night and 7 to 8 hours for adults aged 65 and older. 

The worst part is we all know the drill on what we should be doing to get a good night’s sleep: go to bed at the same time every night, limit alcohol, caffeine consumption and screen time before bedtime, get plenty of exercise so we’re naturally tired. So why are so many of us up at night and exhausted all the time?

A century ago, we were a far more active society. There were also no screens in the early twentieth century. You don’t need a research study to confirm the obvious: sleep disorders have burgeoned with the use of electronic devices.

Just as modern devices are hindering our ability to sleep, some devices are helping our ability to sleep. It seems every Tom, Dave and Harry these days has a CPAP machine (I say Tom, Dave and Harry because sleep apnea is overwhelmingly diagnosed more in males).

CPAP machines actually have only been around for 40 years and came about thanks to man’s best friend.

In 1980, Dr. Colin Sullivan noticed his dog was having breathing issues. He used a vacuum cleaner motor and hose contraption attached to his dog’s snout to increase the airway and breathing for his pooch when it was sleeping. Sullivan later did research at the University of Toronto on SIDS, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, surmising the cause of death of infants was related to interrupted breathing.

CPAP machines have become a life saving device, so I’ve resigned myself to sleeping on the dark side of the bed, one with the force beside the man behind a mask.

This week’s #HappyAct is to take care of your sleep health. Just be careful not to choke on your aspirations.*

Happy dreaming.

*famous Darth Vader line from Rogue One

Take a bite out of the Big Apple

Special guest blog by Ray Dorey

New York city skyline

I don’t really maintain a “bucket list,” although last fall I finally followed through on something I’ve always wanted to do–a trip to visit New York City.

The 4-day bus excursion was my first foreign departure since the beginning of the pandemic. My package included city tours, meals, and a Broadway play, along with other group activities. Perfect for a newbie like me. And the best part is that I didn’t have to worry about driving. 

We approached from New Jersey, through what I like to call “Sopranos territory,” thinking of the hit HBO show from a few years ago.

Though I’ve seen it countless times on television and in film, my first in-person view of the Manhattan skyline was truly breathtaking. We then dipped below the Hudson River into the darkness of the Lincoln Tunnel on our way to our hotel in the heart of Times Square.

When I wasn’t with my group, I ventured out on my own into the sea of tall buildings and bright lights. I wanted to take everything in while not standing out as an obvious tourist. And although not necessarily recommended, I even joined the locals and crossed intersections against the lights. Otherwise, I likely would have been trampled. 

As amazing as the experience was, it was difficult to walk very far without someone less fortunate asking for money. Heartbreaking poverty was abundantly evident and in stark contrast to the surrounding wealth. 

One evening, our group attended a Broadway performance of & Juliet. It was so well done–two hours of pure energy. And I learned the following day that comic actor Will Ferrell had been sitting just a few rows in front of me. Just imagine how much cowbell the two of us could muster together. 

Broadway production of Juliet

My personal highlight was the bus tours through Manhattan, each led by a local guide, whose knowledge and pride in their communities was clearly evident. 

The first tour was a fascinating journey which included a stop in Central Park to visit “Strawberry Fields,” an area dedicated in tribute to John Lennon, and concluded near the 9/11 Memorial and in between, countless stories of historical and pop culture significance. My only complaint was that it went by far too quickly. There was barely enough time to absorb one experience before you were on top of the next. 

Strawberry fields monument Imagine to John Lennon in Central Park

On the second tour, our guide led us through Harlem, while proudly discussing restoration efforts in her community. Our tour concluded with a unique experience where we briefly participated in a Baptist church service. 

Hopefully, sometime soon, I’ll get a chance to go back, perhaps during baseball season to take in a Yankees game. Though I was busy from dusk to dawn, I barely scratched the surface of everything that New York has to offer. My brief visit has stoked countless ideas to further experience the big apple to its core. 

Ed. note: Like Ray, I’ve only been to New York once. Our trip was cut short by Hurricane Irene. We packed as much as we could into our 36 hours before having to evacuate before the hurricane hit. It was still an amazing trip, and seeing downtown Manhatten shuttered up like a ghost town with sandbags in the store windows was an experience I’ll never forget. Guess I’ll need to go back to take a second bite out of the big apple.

New York city street
Manhattan skyscrapers

Hail to the Shamrock Shake

They’re back. Nothing says green and spring than sipping a minty, delicious McDonald’s Shamrock Shake®.

The Shamrock Shake was created in 1967 by Hal Rosen, a Connecticut McDonald’s owner and operator who made the delicious, minty shake to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. It became a staple in the McDonald’s menu in March when it rolled out across the nation in 1970. Here are six fun, interesting tidbits you may not know about the Shamrock Shake that will make you want to zip into your local McDonald’s drive through faster than a leaping leprachaun.  

  1. The Shamrock Shake helped build the very first Ronald McDonald House in Philadelphia and has strong ties to the Philadelphia Eagles. The daughter of Philadelphia Eagles tight end Fred Hill was being treated for leukemia in 1974. The Hill family were camping out in waiting rooms in hospitals and saw other families doing the same. They contacted their local McDonalds owner to see if they could come up with a promotion to help raise money for a place to stay for out-of-town families visiting a sick child in a hospital. The campaign raised enough to buy a four-story house in Philadelphia, the first Ronald McDonalds House. (Ronald McDonalds’ houses are now in 70 countries around the world).
  2. Some of the marketing campaigns for the famous green St. Paddy’s Day beverage have been “a bit of Irish luck in every sip”, “tis the first green of spring” and my favourite, “They won’t be around for long, and that’s no blarney” from this 1983 TV commercial.
  3. McDonald’s introduced the “Shamrock Sundae” for a limited time in 1980, a version of their classic soft serve sundae with a minty green topping, but it wasn’t successful and lasted only a year.
  4. On March 17, 2010, the world’s largest Shamrock Shake was poured into the Chicago River in honor of a donation to develop a new RMHC house. The shake was 24 feet tall.
  5. In 2017, McDonalds added chocolate to the iconic shake and called it the “McLeprechaun”. For the launch, it introduced a revolutionary limited-edition straw designed by a team of aerospace and robotic engineers. The straw was optimally designed to suck 50% chocolate and 50% mint in each sip.
  6. The Shamrock Shake is offered in Ireland, but with mixed reception, mainly due to McDonald’s marketing efforts. In 2017, McDonald’s had to apologize to the entire country for one commercial that featured a man with red hair wearing a tartan (which is Scottish) playing the milkshake like a set of bagpipes (which are also Scottish) in front of Stonehenge (which is in England), while sheep roam around in the background. 

This week’s #HappyAct is to pay homage to the frosty green of spring and make your way to McDonalds today. Here’s another classic commercial from the 80’s showing the short-lived Shamrock Sundae and one of the child actors wearing a t-shirt saying, “Kiss me I’m Irish”.

Tea for Two

tea setting

Special guest post by Jill Yokoyama

Sharing a pot of tea is a ritual in many cultures. My family has a British-Australian background so I learned how to make a decent cup of tea early on, and our family often made a pot of tea after dinner. My husband’s family is Japanese and my late mother-in-law’s green tea set is a cherished possession in our house, a connection to someone very dear to us.

Morning tea in Australia and New Zealand is a daily tradition at 10:30 or 11:00 am. It is a break at school or work when everyone pauses for a cup of tea (or coffee) and a biscuit or small snack. It is a time to make announcements, welcome new employees, give a shout-out to someone who deserves it, or have a friendly chat with colleagues. Even on a road trip Australians will have a morning tea break with a thermos of tea at a roadside picnic table. No Tim Hortons drive-thru for the Aussies! 

Tea is a beverage used to comfort others, a way of saying “everything will be alright”. The acts of boiling the kettle, warming the teapot, letting the tea steep, stirring the tea in the cup are comforting. Teatime reminds us of civility and of the late Queen Elizabeth II who many people viewed in a grandmotherly way. Problems big and small can be shared and solved over a cup of tea and a biscuit.

I have a friend who suffered a loss over the holidays. I wanted to offer her some comfort and a chance to sit and relax for a bit. It was fun for me to assemble a plate of sweet treats, get out all my finest teacups, saucers and spoons, and open up the tin of English tea that was a holiday gift.

We whiled away the afternoon with warm tea and conversation while the cold winter snow piled up outside the door. In a busy, chaotic world the tradition of sharing tea is just one way to maintain connections with friends. Consider it part of the shared effort that one puts into relationships that makes them cherished and lasting, and a way of showing that we care. 

Japanese green tea set

It’s time we cancel the cancel culture

sign that says cancelled

A Kitchener school has cancelled Valentine’s Day.

Jean Steckle Public School in Kitchener, Ontario sent a memo home to parents saying there will be no Valentine’s Day celebration in the school and asking parents not to send treats or Valentines in.

The notice read, “While we acknowledge the celebration of Valentine’s Day, and are mindful of the popularity of that day, it is not celebrated by all students/families in our community. It is essential that all students feel welcomed and reflected at school, and that our celebrations do not negatively impact our families and students.”

The school administrators went on to find just about every flimsy excuse in the books to justify their decision: that it could put a financial strain on families to purchase cards or sweets (fair enough), and the food kids eat on Valentine’s Day doesn’t fit in with the healthy eating guidelines.

Really? Is nothing sacred?

Let’s have a reality check here. Valentine’s Day in schools is little kids writing out cards saying “I love you” and “Friends forever” and mowing down chocolate cupcakes with red and white icing.

I’ve been taking note of the nonsense and wake of destruction of cancel culture for a few years now. In, “One Graceless Tweet Doesn’t Warrant Cancellation”, The New York Times lashed out at cancel culture when Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University was fired after posting a tweet complimenting a beautiful woman, calling her “a freak of nature”. A poor choice of words? No question. I think the word graceless perfectly captures it, but it’s rather scary to think any one of us could lose our jobs over a poor turn of phrase.

British comedian Rowan Atkinson spoke out last year against the cancel culture saying it’s almost impossible for comedians now to go on stage and it’s comedy’s job to offend.

Earlier this week, the City of Oshawa voted on whether it should ban toboganning in all but two of its municipal parks citing safety concerns and insurance costs. They voted down the ban, thank goodness, a temporary win in the battle against cancel culture so kids for the time being can still get out in winter and have some fun.

Cancel culture has to stop. If we’re not careful, we will end up cancelling everything that is good and gives us joy in this world.

The Happy Baker

Special guest post by Alison Taylor

On these grey, dreary wintry days, I find I have to really work hard to keep smiling. 

As I hunker down for the long wait for spring, I bake! Sure, the calorie count exceeds the daily recommended limit, but I try to offset it with morning winter walks. 

I love trying new recipes and my husband is happy to be the test taster. I search the internet for yummy recipes or go to my recipe box for the old faithfuls from my childhood. 

Cookies, squares, cakes. All good!  Sometimes that little hit of sugar gives you the boost you need to make it through the winter blues. 

So preheat your oven to 350F, grease the cookie tray, and start mixing up some yummy goodness for you and your family to enjoy and get you through those long winter days. 

Light as a Feather Gingerbread Cake

½ cup boiling water
½ cup shortening
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup light molasses
1 egg
1 ½ cup flour
½ tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¾ tsp ginger
¾ tsp cinnamon

Directions: Pour hot water over shortening. Add sugar, molasses, egg and beat well. Add sifted dry ingredients. Beat well until smooth. Bake in a 8” square pan at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. Serve with whipped cream and fresh strawberries (optional).

Cookies on a tray

Look for a silver lining

light in a dark cloudy sky

I’m into week six of living life indoors with a broken ankle.

Aside from the chronic nerve pain, I’ve been surprised that I’ve been able to keep my spirits up for the most part. And in a strange way, there have been some silver linings.

I’ve started on some writing projects I never seemed to have time for.

I’ve been able to spend days home with Bentley, although he mainly just looks at me with sad, accusing eyes.

I’ve spent time on the phone catching up with friends.

For the first time ever, I’m caught up with my bills, correspondence and filing.

I’ve learned that as long as you have the right system, you can be self-sufficient and do things on your own (although I still say you can’t drink a proper cup of tea from a Yeti).

And finally, I’ve learned that even if someday I am limited in my mobility, I’ll be OK. I used to think that if I didn’t get outside every day, I would literally wither away. I now understand how some seniors choose to stay indoors where it is warm and safe during the winter months.

As I gaze out my sunroom windows on this snowy morning, I’m looking forward to my first walk in the fresh snow, but I also know now that if someday, that walk isn’t possible, I can still be happy.

This week’s #HappyAct is to look for the silver lining.

Five inspiring Netflix picks for February

There’s something about watching a great film that can brighten up even the dreariest of winter days. Here are five Netflix movies to inspire you.

  • Blinded by the Light: an endearing British film about a Pakistani teenager who discovers the music of Bruce Springsteen. A story about family ties and values and following your dreams.
  • Eddie the Eagle: if you watched the Calgary Olympics in 1988, you know the story of Eddie the Eagle, the British ski jumper who captured our hearts with his determination to jump despite all the odds (and little training!) With Hugh Jackman and Taron Egerton.
  • The Fundamentals of Caring: I loved this quirky tale of a teenager with muscular dystrophy who bonds with his caregiver on a cross-country journey to see a big pit. Terrific cast, including Paul Rudd, Selena Gomez, Craig Roberts, and it took me a minute to place the Mom, but Jennifer Ehle from Pride and Prejudice fame.
  • The Swimmers: full disclosure, I haven’t watched this one yet, but it’s next on my list. A true story of two Syrian sisters who escape war to pursue their dreams of being competitive swimmers.
  • My Octopus Teacher: a documentary by diver Craig Foster who develops a unique bond with an octopus while filming off the coast of South Africa. Beautiful, inspiring with amazing underwater cinematography.

There you have it. Happy viewing!

Ed. note: If you’re a movie buff and live in Eastern Ontario, make sure you get tickets for the Kingston Canadian Film Festival in March. The line-up will be announced on February 2 and tickets go on sale February 6. Last year, I saw the amazing film Scarborough at the festival.

Take this simple positivity test and remember the magic number

three smiling boxes and one frowning box

What if I told you the secret to happiness and success is a line and a number?

The line is called the Losada line and the number is 2.9013 which is the ratio of positive to negative interactions you need to have to be happy and successful. Simply put, you need to have at least three positive interactions to every negative one to be happy.

The Losada line and ratio came out of a study done in 2005 by two psychologists, Marcial Losada and Barbara Fredrickson who analyzed the interactions of management teams and how successful they were. The mathematical formula they used was subsequently challenged and discredited by some experts, but many psychologists still cite their work and adopt the principles of the Losada line in sport, business, and to help individuals achieve positive mental health.

They found if teams generate more than 2.9013 positive feelings, emotions or interactions to every 1 negative feeling, emotion or interaction, the team has positive energy needed to feel good about themselves and flourish. A 5:1 ratio is a culture everyone wants to be part of. Teams below the Losada line of 2.9013 have a deteriorating culture, and at 0.73 to 1, the team culture destructs.

In another study, Dr. John Gottman looked at similar research in marriages. Gottman claims he can predict divorce with 90% accuracy by counting the number of positive versus negative interactions a couple has.

In marriage, the magic ratio is 5:1 (why the ratio is higher in marriage is an interesting question, presumably because marriage is hard and there are two individuals’ happiness at stake!)

Happy couple have at least 5 positive interactions for every negative one. You can read more about Gottman’s study and the types of positive interactions between happy couples here.

This week’s #HappyAct is to take the personal positivity test and strive to increase your personal to negative interactions to 3:1 or higher. Gottman also has a quiz on his website called “How Well Do You Know Your Partner” (note you have to provide your email address to get the results emailed to you but a summary pops up on the screen as soon as you provide your email).

And don’t worry if you score low initially on the personal positivity test. I expected to because I’m at home nursing a broken ankle right now. Think of it more as a check in with how you’re feeling, then start working towards improving your positive interactions and on a path to better mental health and happiness.