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I’m a creature of habit, and I always start my days the same way, no matter what else I plan to do later. I wake up early, usually around 5 a.m., shower, shave, make a pot of coffee and then sit down in my office to browse the news channels, looking for something that might inspire a future article. This morning I was doing that, and one item caught my eye. It was a statistic — not a happy one — and it was featured on several different websites. It seems that average life expectancy here, in the United States, fell by a year and a half to the upper 70s during 2020. The figure for West Virginia is even lower, and we sit just above Missouri at No. 50 on a list of all the states. Hawaiians are said to have the longest life expectancy in the country, while in the rest of the world, Hong Kong residents and the Japanese tend to live longest.

The fall in the United States figure was partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic of course, but it’s the biggest drop since World War II and it got me wondering how we are doing in other aspects of modern life.

After some research, I thought I’d start on a happier note by looking at the United Nations sponsored “World Happiness Report.” There can be little doubt which country’s people regard theirs as the Earth’s happiest one, Finland has held the top spot for the past four years and it seems the rest of Scandinavia is also a good place to be, because Iceland, Denmark, Sweden and Norway all feature in the top seven places. This report is based on a survey of people in 149 countries all over the world, together with statistics on the economic and social conditions in each nation.

The effects of the pandemic hit Britain severely, and this shows as their position in the Happiness Report fell from 13th to 17th last year. Here, in the USA, we are listed at 19th, down one place from 2019. Afghanistan is recorded as the least happy country on earth, while African nations feature in seven of the bottom ten spots.

There was also a survey of the world’s happiest places to live, and once again Scandinavian cities, together with some from Australia and New Zealand, are reported as being the best. Helsinki, the capital of Finland, sits at the top of the list while the highest-ranked US city was Washington, D.C., which is in at No. 18. London is the top British city, way down at No. 36, with ten American cities above it on the list. There are a total of 186 cities in all, and once again, Afghanistan takes last place with its capital city, Kabul.

This past week I had my annual check up at the doctor’s office, and for that reason health care is on my mind at the moment. That being so, I thought I’d see where we stand as regards this in comparison to other countries. There are several lists and surveys out there but, for the past 14 years, a report on the world’s health care has been prepared by the Legatum Institute, who base their findings on physical and mental health, health infrastructure and preventative care and so I used that. They list three Asian countries, Singapore, Japan and South Korea, as the best three places with regard to looking out for their people’s health. Britain’s National Health Service features at No. 25 on the list, just below several other European countries. Unfortunately, the United States is recorded at No. 59 and we are beaten into that place by several smaller countries, including two Asian republics, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, who are at Nos. 57 and 58.

Much of my research for these articles is done online, and I’m always interested in fast download speeds. On checking the figures for this I found that, when it comes to the internet, Europe dominates the fastest speed report with 8 out of the top 10 places. As it happens, Britain isn’t in any of those places and currently languishes at No. 40, while the USA sits at number 16 out of a total of 194 countries. We are recorded as having the fastest speed in the whole of the Americas, however.

There is one category where Britain and the United States tie — passport holders from both countries can travel to 185 foreign destinations without requiring a visa. This list has been compiled over 16 years by Henley Passport Index and it shows that there are 19 countries in the world whose passports have greater access around the globe than ours do. Top of the list is Japan. The Japanese people’s passports are accepted by 191 different countries without prior authorization and, of the next 18 on the list, 15 are issued by European countries. Afghanistan once again props up the report with its passports only being accepted in 26 places around the world.

The positions of the USA and Britain on some of these lists might make you wonder what our overall standing in the world is considered to be. Well, there is a listing for that too, and the news is better. Perhaps surprisingly, our northern neighbor Canada is listed as No. 1 in the report of the best countries overall, winning that place because it’s considered to have the best quality of life and of social purpose. We are not far behind, however. We are currently lying at No. 6 by virtue of having the biggest economy, being the most powerful nation on earth and ranking highly for agility, entrepreneurship and influence, among several other assets. Britain is at No. 8, mainly because of its cultural influence, although it did drop down a place after leaving the European Union.

I began this piece by talking about this country’s life expectancy figures. Of course, the fact that they have fallen doesn’t mean we are going to pass on when we reach a certain age, and I hope we all defy the statistics and lead long and fulfilling lives.

I’m not an expert, but I think that once we get COVID-19 under control, our numbers will rise again. One thing did strike me about these lists, however. Life expectancy and health care seem to be related. We are pretty far down on the health care report. Do you think that, perhaps, if we took steps to improve that position, we might see a corresponding rise in the life expectancy one too?

Derek Coleman is a part-time writer who is a native of England and who now lives in Hurricane, W.Va. He can be reached at tallderek@hotmail.com.

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