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Get happy, or die trying



"Richer, fatter, and not much happier" was the headline of the Worldwatch Institute's annual report, State of the World 2004. The subtitle reads "Consumer appetite erodes quality of life for rich and poor".

Although you have to shell out about $17 US for a copy of the report, which is based on demographics, economic and statistical data from around the world, as well as surveys of populations, some of the content is free at the Worldwatch Web site at www.worldwatch.org. And it's pretty amazing stuff.

The basic premise behind the headline is the concept that the pursuit of wealth and consumer goods - bigger houses, bigger vehicles, and a lot more of everything - has not made us any happier. The statistics compiled in the report fly in the face of what corporations, advertisers and politicians would have us believe, and rock the very foundations on which our consumer culture - where concepts like freedom, democracy and shopping are inexplicably linked - was built.

The timing of this report couldn't be better. Credit card statements are rolling in, we're having trouble shedding all of the pounds we packed on bingeing over the holidays, and most of us have to acknowledge that, even if we got everything we wanted from Santa this year, we're no happier than when we started.

According to Worldwatch, American homes are 38 per cent bigger, refrigerators are 10 per cent bigger, and vehicles - let's just say the average fuel efficiency of cars has decreased for the first time since the energy crisis 25 years ago. There are now more than a dozen SUVs on the market over 6,000 pounds - just heavy enough to be considered light trucks, which makes them eligible for small business tax breaks south of the border.

Americans are more obese than ever, even though the average U.S. citizen works nine more weeks a year than the average European. Canadian statistics are similar.

It's no wonder then that a survey of American citizens found that only a third of Americans surveyed considered themselves as being "very happy" - roughly the same percentage as 1957 when people were half as wealthy.

Despite assurances otherwise, it seems that our collective and individual happiness has less to do with out quantity of money than our quality of life. Some people have figured this out already - why else would anyone move to a ski town and a career in the low-pay, seasonal tourism industry?

Besides skiing and boarding, there are other ways to find happiness out there. Let the Web be your guide.

32 Hours - www.web.net/32hours/

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