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Are We Happier in France? An Expat Explains

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The latest news from the Bruni-Sarkozy here in Paris household is that the French might start officially measuring more than just the GDP, but will begin accounting for, well, happiness.

So I began thinking about how happy I am living in France. Well, we earn a lot less salary-wise, but my child is in a great public school, we have great health care, live near free parks, museums, and the pollution level is down. When we lived (briefly) in L.A. a few years ago, I also placed my daughter in a public school, supposedly one of the best in the city. But she would come home and say, "Mommy, I can't concentrate. The kids don't listen to the teacher and get up and make noise all the time". Our idea of fun went from a day at the City of Science la Villette in Paris to the latest news about High School Musical. There were no more architectural wonders, and a lot of strip malls.

In France we live with no television...ever. In L.A. there were not only televisions everywhere, there was relentless advertising. I could do my best to "control" the atmosphere, but the fact was, it was simply a lot more work to attain the same level of quality of life we have here in Paris. And we live here with much less, yet our days are full of history, good food, overlapping languages and cultures (as a ten year old my daughter studies not only French but Italian and English during school hours). I have little idea of what my friends here do for a living whereas in the US, the first thing people asked was "What do you do?".

When the financial crisis hit, it eventually reached France as well. But we were not frightened of losing our homes, schools, standard of living, health insurance. There was a cushion. And we pay high taxes for it. But life is frankly, pretty damn good. It reminds me more of the '70s when I grew up and nobody knew whose parents were rich or not...that hit in the '80s and '90s. In the 70s things seemed more relaxed.

Tonight we attended a birthday dinner for a 13-year-old neighborhood girl. Her parents made the dinner, from scratch, themselves, and adults and children mixed, drank some organic wine and juices and the most expensive present was a book on the Beatles. The birthday girl was thrilled to say the least. In LA, a 13 year old once received a Segway as a gift at a parry I attended. I grew up in Texas and was in high school in the '80s, and it was weird, people hired 747s to take seniors to New Orleans for a prom dinner, but even then we sort of knew that was an exaggeration. But hey, it was Texas.

Things definitely got out of hand. The rich became richer and the poor dropped off the map, (let us never forget those images and people of New Orleans). It ruined us as a country in some ways. Because we used to be the dream for people in France, and other places around the world. Now, we have the President who was to bring us Hope. But what we really need, is for him to lead the way is bringing us back home again to what America really is deep down.

So, yes, I would say I am happy living in France...very happy actually. But mostly what I would say, is that I am able to offer my daughter, and myself, a life here in France, that I once knew to be reality in America. Where is my country? Who would have thought I would find it far from "home"? We need to invest in ourselves and our nation again. Stop the bickering and complaining and get down to the hard work of recapturing the United States from greed and inequality. We are not about that.

Let's set our own happiness index in the U.S.A., and may it include not only "liberty and justice for all", but also a sense of solidarity. When we see that person who is out of work, or worried about how to feed their children , or educate them, let us know that, "There but for the grace of God go I". An America which is not united, and where we do not come together to help one another, is not the country is was meant to be.