Wednesday 22 March 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 22/3/2023

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Carlota Rebelo

Couldn’t be happier

What makes a nation happy? According to The Oxford English Dictionary, “happiness” can be defined as “the state of pleasurable contentment of mind; or contentment with one’s circumstances”. But what happens when you try to apply the term to entire countries? The answer can be found in World Happiness Report 2023, which was published this week. Created by the UN with Gallup World Poll and various researchers, the annual report ranks 150 countries based on its happiness index. Criteria include health, social support, the freedom to make life choices, perceptions of corruption and GDP per capita.

Sun in Esplanadi Park

Image: Juho Kuva

Happy Finns in Helsinki

Image: Juho Kuva

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Finland is again in first place, making this its sixth consecutive year at the top. It is followed by Denmark and Israel. This year there has been more focus on kindness and benevolence. “Year after year we have found that generosity is a meaningful predictor of happiness,” write the report’s authors.

While the report is a reminder of the kinds of factors that push nations forward and towards healthy democracies, is it possible to quantify something as subjective as happiness? My home country, Portugal, is ranked 56th – but I struggle to believe that we are any less happy than our Nordic counterparts. We thrive when we are sad; in other words, we’re happy being gloomy. Complaining and having an air of melancholy is part of who we are; to return to that dictionary definition, it’s part of what makes us content with our circumstances. What’s more, I seriously doubt that Portugal would have given the world fado music had we been any further up the ranking.

Carlota Rebelo is Monocle’s senior foreign correspondent, based in the world’s 19th happiest nation, the UK.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / UK

Holding the line

The right flank of the UK’s Conservative Party has been emboldened by the decision of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to vote against a crucial part of the UK’s Windsor Framework. MPs aligned with the radical pro-Brexit European Research Group (ERG) will hold a meeting before today’s parliamentary vote to decide whether to back prime minister Rishi Sunak’s reworked deal, which would provide a structure for the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Both the DUP, led by Jeffrey Donaldson (pictured), and ERG, however, have warned that the agreement would leave Northern Ireland tied to EU laws. The UK government has made it clear that it won’t renegotiate, meaning that, short of a major rebellion by the Conservative right, the DUP’s intervention won’t derail the deal. The party’s withdrawal from a power-sharing coalition with Sinn Féin, ostensibly over the issues that the Windsor Framework purports to address, has denied Northern Ireland a functional devolved government at a time of rising costs and economic instability. It’s time to put fantasies of a buccaneering, borderless Northern Ireland aside and get on with the business of governance.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / USA & Canada

True north

Joe Biden visits Canada tomorrow for his first official visit to Ottawa since assuming office two years ago. Canada is traditionally one of the first countries that a US president visits after their inauguration (a tradition shelved by Donald Trump, who decided to go to Saudi Arabia first). The agenda is likely to be dominated by security, which Biden will be keen to define in broad terms.

China might be a tricky topic of discussion for Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau (pictured, on left, with Biden), who is under pressure at home for his perceived hesitation in investigating allegations that Beijing meddled in the country’s recent elections – an issue over which US intelligence has also reportedly raised concerns. While past presidential visits to Canada have relied heavily on ceremonial trappings, tomorrow’s meeting will aim to reaffirm the importance of good relations between the neighbouring countries.

For more on President Biden’s visit to Ottawa, tune in to tomorrow’s edition of ‘The Globalist’.

Image: Getty Images

Culture / Hong Kong

Put in the picture

Art Basel Hong Kong opens tomorrow, welcoming international visitors for the first time since 2019. The art fair is the marquee event of Hong Kong Art Week but it’s far from the only thing happening: another big fair, Art Central, opened today, with 70 exhibitors from around the world. Highlight’s of this year’s Art Basel Hong Kong include work from local artists Stanley Wong and Trevor Yeung, as well as an expanding presence of African exhibitors, such as Nigeria-based gallery Retro Africa.

For the first time in the fair’s history, the art will not be confined to the show floor: a large-scale installation by Ethiopian-American artist Awol Erizku will appear outside Hong Kong’s Pacific Place mall and a video work by Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist can be seen on a harbourfront screen. “Hong Kong is a melting pot of cultures and our show is a true international platform to bring together different ideas, identities and cultures,” fair director Angelle Siyang-Le tells The Monocle Minute. The art isn’t bad either.

F&B / Switzerland

Corking success

For the first time, a Swiss wine has received the maximum 100-point rating from wine critic Robert Parker, one of the most influential voices in the international world of sniffing, swilling and spitting plonk. Grain par Grain, a sweet wine produced by Marie-Thérèse Chappaz (pictured), earned top marks for its “clear and subtle but generously intense and elegant fruit aroma”. Those hoping to get their hands on the tipple might end up with sour grapes, however: only 54 litres of the 2020 vintage were produced and it was sold out even before Parker’s announcement. For this type of sweet wine, a mould called botrytis cinerea must first attack the grapes, leaving a limited amount of fruit to work with. Even if it were still in stock, the chances of it reaching an international crowd would be small. About 1 per cent of Swiss wine gets exported, making every bottle rare.

Monocle 24 / Monocle On Culture

‘Rye Lane’

We take a trip to southeast London to celebrate the release of the charming new film ‘Rye Lane’. Writers Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia join us in the studio to discuss their working relationship, influences and the desire to create a great romcom. Plus: journalist Rogan Graham shares her response to the film.

Monocle Films / Helsinki

Sisu: The art of Finnish fortitude

Finland is a swimmer’s paradise and residents take to the water year-round. In colder months the practice often involves carving a hole into ice – a demonstration of sisu, the unique Finnish concept of fortitude in the face of adversity. Monocle joins journalist Katja Pantzar on an icy dip, to explore the mindset that dates back more than 500 years. Discover more stories and ideas from the region with The Monocle Book of the Nordics, available now from The Monocle Shop.


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