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May 4, 2015

It probably does not make Canadians happier to know that, according to the World Happiness Report, our country has the world's fifth happiest population. It may even surprise most of us to learn that is the case.

Nevertheless, the testimony of immigrants often supports the happiness report's finding. "Canada is paradise," an immigrant once told me.

The report rates countries based on five factors: life expectancy, per capita income, the level of political and economic corruption, social supports and the freedom to make life choices. On all these matters, Canada does well.

Canadians, of course, complain about the weather. But even long winters help beat the blues, says Meik Wiking, head of the Happiness Research Institute, the Danish think tank which produced the report.

Spring and summer are the worst times of year for lonely people, Wiking recently told The Canadian Press. "Lonely people feel the loneliest because it's that time of year where you can see the rest of the city engage in relationships, barbecues, hanging out at the park, at the beach and so on."

While Canadians can be grateful for all that makes us happy, disturbing signs abound. One need not be a wet blanket to point out the decline in social connectedness which besets our culture. You see it in the large amount of time people spend with their eyes glued to screens ranging from 55-inch TVs to tiny iPods. It's also visible in increasing divorce rates, lower election turnouts and decreasing volunteerism.

Curiously, when people are "forced" to volunteer when a disaster, such as fire or flood, hits their community, they benefit from finally meeting their neighbours.

The increase in the casino mentality in our country exchanges the value of an honest day's work for an honest dollar for the thrill of randomly winning the big prize. In an information and technological society, not only is it rare to see concrete fruits from one's labour, but as well people's connection with nature can decrease.

Such a society has also lower job security; for the young especially, it is difficult to establish oneself in a career and maintain that career.

Above all, religious faith is in decline. Without faith in a transcendent God, life loses purpose and can become wearisome.

Education is less frequently seen as intrinsically valuable and more often as training for the job market. On the way out is the view of Ecclesiastes that "The advantage of knowledge is that wisdom gives life to the one who possesses it" (7.12).

Canadians have much for which to be thankful. Ours is a healthy, wealthy and free country. Yet our whole edifice of happiness can come crashing down if we don't take the time to nurture the personal relationships and religious faith which are the foundation for that which we see as good.