Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.

We're all in search of happiness.

Everyone claims to have felt it at least once or twice, sometimes for a few days or more. Then it disappears as quickly as it arrives, without even a hint of a sayonara.

Still, I knew where I could find the lasting version.

Earlier this year, the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network report named Norway the happiest country in the world.

It clearly has something no other country has -- and it's got a lot of it.

So I had to see for myself and bathe in the droplets from its showers of joy.

Fortunately, my girlfriend used to live in Oslo. She speaks perfect Norwegian. She was to be my guide. Indeed, she was also fascinated about what had lifted Norway to the very top of the cheery chart.

The Weather. Did I Mention the Weather?

We flew there on May 10. We peered out of the plane to see the beautiful countryside, the gorgeous unspoiled glory that makes Norwegians feel giddy with glee.

We could see nothing, not even 50 feet from the ground. When the plane landed with a slight bump, we realized why: It was snowing.

Did I mention this was May 10? How could a place with this sort of weather ever make anyone happy?

It can't! This is all a lie! This country was created by the producers of The Truman Show! They just found a cheap location!

As we wandered through Oslo airport, I was struck by a sign. Perhaps it was a work of art. It read: "Honest. Pure. Raw."

Was this what made Norway so happy? Was it some sort of essential organic material deep in the Norwegian soul?

My strategy in discovering the truth of human happiness wasn't original. It was to talk to humans and ask them whether they were happy.

Here, then, are my conclusions from dozens of conversations with Norwegians in restaurants, bars, stores, cafés, a Eurovision Song Contest party -- and did I mention bars?

What, Us Happy?

Many Norwegians realize that they've been voted the happiest people in the world. Many that I spoke to have no idea why.

"I wouldn't call us particularly happy," Einar, a tech type, told me. "But we do feel safe."

"We know that if something goes wrong, the government will help us," said Kjetil, a music producer.

"Have you seen how expensive alcohol is here?" huffed Eva, a scientist. Norway does place enormous taxes on alcohol. An average bottle of wine in a restaurant costs at least $100. (At least the restaurants we went to.)

But how the hell do you put up with this weather? It's May! It's cold, wet, and dark, even when the days are actually long! I've never seen dark sunsets take four hours!

"There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes," said Ana, who works for her local council preventing contractors from breaking laws.

Um, what? You actually enjoy wearing long johns on top of long johns and slightly beneath pants? Did I mention how dark it is here?

Rationally, They're Happy

But back to feeling safe, rather than, you know, deliriously happy. I heard this theme many times. "The government has saved $170,000 for each citizen," I was told. Just in case, you understand. "The social safety net is extremely strong in Norway," I was informed.

Parental leave, for example, is 46 weeks on full pay. You did read those words correctly, yes. The father can claim up to 14 of those weeks. This long period guarantees that mothers stay in the work force.

You might think this is lax or even insane. The Norwegian Ministry of Finance says that this leads to productivity gains because employers have so much more choice in whom to hire. Moreover, it also means that no one is forced to work insane hours, as there are more employees to choose from who will share the load.

Ultimately, Norway has a relatively small population (just over five million) and a relatively large amount of money thanks, in part, to oil. The gap between the highest earners and the lowest is also much narrower than, say, in the U.S.

I'm trying to be rational here, but what's the point? There's nothing rational about happiness.

No, Norway Isn't the Happiest

Late one night in a very pleasant, tiny wine bar, I chatted with Frederik, a landscape gardener. He was sitting on his own, reading the latest Jo Nesbo novel. Norwegians really do that.

Frederik told me that he was happiest in Italy. The land of chianti and chitarra was, he said, the best country in the world.

He, too, mentioned feeling safe in Norway, rather than a strain of delirium. With him, I became braver. How, I asked, could he put up with this weather?

"This has been a good year," he told me.

But it was snowing yesterday, Frederik! I had icicles on my glasses! It's May! How much have you had to drink?!

"We didn't have that much snow this year," he insisted. "I got to work a lot more in the winter."

"You wear gloves, right?" I asked, rationality still clinging to me like a needy spider.

"No," he replied. "It's far worse with gloves. They get wet very quickly, and that's really horrible."

I asked Frederik why he didn't move to Italy. He explained that he made far more money in Norway. That money, he said, allowed him to travel more often to Italy.

Getting Hamared. By the Weather

We then traveled north to the city of Hamar. It was colder and darker than Oslo. I hadn't known this was possible.

We went to a soccer match in Brumunddal, a tiny town with a largely mediocre team.

The sun came out for a few minutes. For those few minutes, I felt happy. Especially when a woman came around with a very big box full of bolle -- local buns. She asked the fans to simply distribute them among themselves. Yes, for free. They're happy here, you see. Well, wealthy.

The people here walk for miles in open countryside. They occasionally see a moose, go cross-country skiing, and ride their brand-new electric bikes. It's very eco-friendly in Norway.

I saw a very large Tesla dealership just outside tiny Brumunddal. Why? Tax incentives.

And in Hamar, Robert De Niro's former chef has a sushi restaurant. Really. We went. It was quite good.

It poured rain the whole time and the dark-gray sunset lasted at least 11 hours.

They're Not Happy and Neither Was I

The most vocal opponent of Norway's alleged happiness was an artist I met called Berit.

"Money has destroyed people here. It's eaten away at their soul," she said. "We used to have a sense of community. We're farmers, for God's sake. Now, people are showing off how big their car is. It's disgusting."

Very few people admitted to walking on a cloud. Many confessed, however, to feeling so safe that they felt sure that any storms that came their way wouldn't be financial.

But the emotional lifestyle was, for me, encapsulated by one evening sitting outside an Oslo bar. Many of the women seemed to be wearing the same skirt. This perplexed me.

"Oh, those are the blankets," explained my girlfriend.

"The blankets?" I asked.

"The bar gives out blankets to anyone who wants to sit outside," she said. The women wrap the blankets around themselves, so that they look like woolly skirts.

But it's cold and wet and a little miserable! Doesn't this drive you all insane? It's May!

In allegedly happy places, you see, they try and think of everything to make people feel, well, all right. Even if it means blanket-skirts.

A few minutes later, a bar employee came outside and began to lower the large umbrella above our table.

For quite a few seconds, I wondered what she was doing. Finally, I realized. The sun had just peeked through the clouds. She wanted everyone to have the benefit of at least a few natural rays.

You never know when the next ones might arrive. It might be months.

The next day, it rained.

The next day, we flew to Portugal, where the economy isn't entirely healthy.

It was sunny there. I was happy.

Published on: Jun 11, 2017
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