Reasons to be cheerful: Why New Zealand really is - or should be - one of the world's happiest countries

A cheerful opinion piece, worth reading.
Source: Lorna Thornber - Stuff

OPINION: If you’ve been bemoaning the high cost of living in this country or otherwise wondering whether it’s lost some of its lustre, take heart – New Zealand has been named the 10th-happiest country in the world.

Based on economic and social data along with people’s assessment of their own happiness, the UN-sponsored World Happiness Report – which put Finland at number one for the fifth year in a row – is certainly well-researched, reminding us that, despite our troubles, we have a lot to be grateful for really.

The report doesn’t go into why New Zealand ranked where it did – one rung down from last year – so we’ve come up with a few non-political and non-Covid-related reasons for those who call it home to feel cheerful. Couldn’t we all do with a little light-hearted relief from all the heavy stuff going on in the world right now?

We’re considered an earthly paradise

We Kiwis may know New Zealand’s “100 Per Cent Pure” label isn’t 100 per cent accurate, but people the world over still think we’re as close to an enchanted kingdom as you can get outside a Lord of the Rings film (more than 20 years after the release of the first film, Peter Jackson still deserves our thanks for that).

When Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced New Zealand would reopen its borders to foreign tourists from April 12, French publication Le Figaro proclaimed it “A return to Paradise in the Pacific”, while Australian travel writer Ben Groundwater described Aotearoa as “safe and welcoming, and at the same time absolutely fascinating”.

As well as admitting that New Zealand’s capital city is better than Australia’s, describing windy Welly as “a fantastic destination, with a high-quality bar and restaurant scene, world-class museums and galleries, and plenty of space to explore and relax in”, he complimented the “jagged alpine splendour that you would just never find in our own sunburnt land”, and “next-level snow sports”.

While New Zealand isn’t always as clean and green as it proclaims to be and many envisage, we Kiwis are generally aware we live in a pretty special part of the world. Hence our not-so-humble brag that we’re residents of Godzone.

Lonely Planet has our backs though, telling would-be visitors to “get ready for mammoth national parks, dynamic Māori culture, and world-class surfing and skiing. New Zealand can be mellow or action-packed, but it’s always epic”.

We’re the only place in the world you can feast on such delicacies as pāua pies

Where else can you treat your taste buds to such gastronomic delights as pāua pies, “black forest toast” with Fix and Fogg peanut butter (head to the peanut butter nutters’ hole in the wall eatery on Hannah’s Laneway in Wellington), Caramilk doughnuts (visit The Smoking Barrel in Motueka), and fine dining featuring the likes of hākereke (flax) blossom and huhu grubs?

If you’re keen to sample the latter, do your best to bag a table at Monique Fiso’s Wellington restaurant Hiakai, which Lonely Planet recently labelled the best indigenous food experience in the world and Forbes proclaimed “one of the leading culinary lights in the Southern Hemisphere”.

Diners sit down to a set menu inspired by Māori myths, legends, contemporary tales, and the best local ingredients the team can get their hands on. If you’re not planning on being in the capital anytime soon, don’t worry. It’s one of many restaurants nationwide using indigenous ingredients and traditional Māori cooking techniques to create imaginative dishes (and drinks) you simply won’t find anywhere else in the world.

We’re a nation of proudly oddball overachievers

There must be something in the water in this part of the world. Or all that cow’s milk we get through. For a small nation, New Zealand produces a remarkable number of world-famous film and TV types who could fairly be described as kind of kooky.

Film director Taika Waititi, who has been described as a “unicorn of strangeness”; Flight of the Conchords, whose loveable goofball image belies serious musical talent and biting self-deprecating wit; and Melanie Lynskey, who’s made a career out of playing intriguing outsiders, are a few names that immediately jump to mind. Oscar nominee Jane Campion, meanwhile, has been credited with making “some of cinema’s strangest, strongest films”.

This could be because of Kiwis’ “totally weird” sense of humour, as Scarlett Johansson once described it. Or perhaps we’re just better than your average Joe/Josephine at embracing our inner weirdos. Whatever the case, it works. And not just for those in film and TV.

We have exceptional pies and ice creams

Our supermarkets may be extortionate, but you can eat like a lard-loving king at our bakeries and ice cream outlets.

We Kiwis take our pies, sausage rolls and sugary buns extremely seriously, with many of us quick to passionately defend our favourite suppliers. When Stuff senior travel reporter Siobhan Downes compiled a list of what she considered to be the nation’s best small-town bakeries in July 2021, the travel team was inundated with responses from readers extolling the virtues of their own top picks. So many we had to make a whole new list.

Some of our favourites: Viands Bakery in Kihikihi, The Chocolate Eclair Shop in Ōhakune, Viv’s Kitchen in Sanson, and The Clareville Bakery in, well, Clareville.

Some of yours: Fat Bastard Pies in Invercargill, Jimmy’s Pies in Roxborough, The Burleigh in Blenheim, and Darfield Bakery in, well, Darfield.

And then there are our ice creams. We may not have invented the stuff, but we eat a hell of a lot of it – we’re said to be among – if not the biggest ice cream eaters in the world.

History repeated itself with a Stuff article on New Zealand’s best ice creams prompting an obligatory follow-up on readers picks’. Whether your idea of frozen dessert heaven is an artisanal gelato made with locally sourced produce or 10 dollops of Tip Top from the dairy, this country can cater. Admirably.

Our cost of living may be high, but our quality of life is too

With the cost of living in New Zealand ballooning during the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s a good thing this country offers plenty of free old-fashioned fun.

We have our pricey attractions, sure, but most of us are within easy driving – if not walking or cycling –distance from beaches, lakes, mountains and bush walks that plenty of people are willing to catch an international flight for.

Global bank HSBC named New Zealand the second-best country in the world for “living” in its latest (2021) Expat Explorer Survey, based on questions sent to more than 20,000 expats in 46 different countries.

Survey respondents praised New Zealand’s relatively laid-back way of life, with many saying they had more free time after work to spend appreciating the natural environment. In all the survey’s measurements, New Zealand scored highly for work-life balance, political stability, high level of safety and friendliness.

Of course, you could argue that our quality of life would be even better if the cost of living hadn’t risen by 5.2 per cent for the average household within a year. But that would be veering into the political. So in the interest of ending this story on happiness on a suitably happy note, I’ll just sign off here.

Lorna Thornber - Stuff
March 20, 2022