In a recent survey to find the happiest people in the world, the super-smug Swiss came out on top. Just 3.6 per cent of the population realised that having a punctual bus service and someone else's teeth are not the be all and end all of life and said they were dissatisfied with their lot. Whatever. The most interesting finding is to be found at the bottom of the table: the country with the most unhappy people. I would have gone for Niger. I went there once, to a small town in the middle of nowhere called Agadez, and it was pretty damn close to even Lucifer's idea of hell on earth. You could almost taste the hopelessness and smell the despair. There were no crops to tend or factories to work in. There was a shower, around which the town had been built, I suppose, and there was a table football game which seemed to amuse the children even though the ball had been lost long ago.
It was a desperate place but, it seems, somewhere is worse. Finland, perhaps? It's a sensible thought. You are apparently in the First World with your mobile phone and your pretty daughters but you spend all winter being frozen to death and all summer being eaten alive by mosquitoes the size of tractors. I can't imagine that I would be terribly happy living in Afghanistan, either, though I dare say there is some satisfaction in going to bed thinking: 'Well at least I wasn't shot today.' When you come to think about it, the list of countries where you have an excuse to be unhappy is huge. I have never been to that featureless moonscape that's now called Somethingikstan but I can't imagine it's a barrel of laughs. And I'm not sure I would like it in Brazil, either, having to walk around in a thong to demonstrate that I had nothing about my person that is worth stealing. Then there's that swathe of misery that stretches along the Kinshasa Highway in the middle of Africa. A land of flies, starvation and HIV.
A land that undermines a British social worker's idea of poverty. However, the poll found that the people who are less satisfied with life than anyone else are.. -insert drum roll here- .. the Italians. Oh, now you mention it, it's obvious. Whiling away those long, warm summer evenings in the Tuscan hills with some cheese and a bottle or two of Vernaccia di San Gimignano. La dolce vita? It's Italian for 'the ungrateful bastards'. Even if we poke about in Italy's dark and secret places, we don't find too much to complain about. The Mafia has been on the wane for the past ten years, and how can anyone complain about Silvio Berlusconi's alleged corruption when they themselves need a backhander to get out of bed in the morning. Besides, the British prime minister is much worse. He has made a complete hash of everything and now he has started attacking cross-dressers, and sacking men for wearing tights in the House of Lords. Despite this and the drizzle and the awful pub food, only 8.5 per cent of us say that we're unhappy. What's more, while extremism is on the rise in Britain, it's now a damp squib in Italy. With immigrants making up just 2.2 per cent of the population there, the far right cannot get much of a toehold and while there are a few communists dotted around here and there, they tend to be one-cal Bolsheviks. Certainly it's been years since there was a really good fist fight in parliament.
Italy's youngsters complain, apparently, about having to live at home until they are 72 but that's because they spend their money on suits and coffee and Alfa Romeos rather than mortgages. Of course, I can see that there are drawbacks to life in Italy. It must be annoying to have to post your letters in Switzerland if you want them to stand any chance of arriving, and I would quickly become bored with being killed on the autostrada every day. Then there's the problem of your wife. One day, you know with absolute certainty, you will come home from work to fnid that the ravishing beauty you married and said goodbye to that morning is waddling up the street in a black sack with breasts like sick sacks of potatoes.
Plus, we think the Germans have no sense of humour, but Hans does at least find some things funny - people falling over on banana skins and Benny Hill, for instance. Luigi, on the other hand, doesn't even laugh at bottoms. In a country where style is everything and la bella figura dictates what you eat, what you were and how much you drink, there is no room for the helplessness of mirth. As a result, there's no such thing as Eduardo Izzardio or Torre di Fawlty. I don't think this is quite enough, though. Worrying about your wife ballooning and not being able to laugh about your unreliable postal service are not the end of the world, and having a dodgy prime minister is normal. STOP PRESS: I've just read the result of another survey which says Britain is one of the most dishonest countries in the world. So when 91.5 per cent of us said we were happy, plainly, we were lying.