The truth can be hard enough, because often with journalism it's a case of lies, damned obscuring or trying to make sense of it all through statistics. Relevance is another matter altogether.
Keeping this in mind, trying to determine Canada's place in that world via surveys and polls can be a strange kind of challenge.
For example, Vancouver has just retained fifth spot in the Mercer Quality of Living survey of world cities, beating Ottawa (14th), Toronto (15th), Montreal (23rd) and Calgary (32nd). Vienna, Zurich, Auckland and Munich topped the poll.
Does this sort of thing ever seem more than a nationalistic (or civic) pissing contest? I sometimes wonder if those particular polls are designed somewhere just off Burrard Street in order to annoy people from Toronto... or Seattle. I do know that the people who drive their cars over two bridges at rush hour in order to get to work often take a dimmer view of Vancouver's excellence, especially when it snows.
And coming bottom of the list for war-torn or impoverished suffering nations is no embarrassment, not least because they are too busy just surviving to notice. What needs to happen is for the rest of us to look at what caused the low ranking and why.
This year the bottom city in the ranking is Baghdad.
Then there are other surveys.
According to a new report from the Economist Intelligence Unit, Canada is the world's 9th best place to be born in for 2013. That's not too shabby. Kudos to all the Canadians who are pregnant for next year.
The Economist Intelligence Unit is a kind of online store of analysis for the famed international business magazine, with loads of serious information on business and the social world along with plenty of pop-culture consumer information like "An index of Europe's most attractive city shopping destinations."
Canada was pipped at the post in the "Where to Be Born in 2013" index by the usual Nordic social democracies, the Antipodes, Holland and Switzerland... and Singapore. But we did beat the U.S. (16th) and China (49th) and that power engine of Europe, Germany (also 16th).
The criteria for ranking in the index is based on the results of a series of life-satisfaction surveys and takes into account indicators that include geography, demography, policies and the economy.
That seems comprehensive and goodness knows the Economist wants to make sure they get it right in order to please the 1.5 million readers of the "hard-copy" magazine and the further 14 million who read it online EVERY month. They want to keep us reading.
But then there was another strange little ranking distinction for Canada in the last week or two, too.
We are tied with the U.S. and six Latin American countries as the fifth Most Emotional Country in the World.
The ranking is not quite as it seems.
American pollster Gallup measured daily emotions in more than 150 countries and areas by asking residents whether they experienced five positive and five negative emotions the previous day.
Negative experiences include anger, stress, sadness, physical pain, and worry. Positive emotions include feeling well rested, being treated with respect, enjoyment, smiling and laughing a lot, and learning or doing something interesting.
So the more emotional countries either have it really good or really bad.
It wasn't what I first thought — that Canadians were disproportionately engaging in road rage or freaking out over the intransigence of the NHL or not able to get the new iPhone 5 quickly enough. I would like to think that Canadians are generally experiencing the more positive emotions in their everyday lives.
The country ranked the most emotional? The Philippines, followed by El Salvador and then Bahrain. According to Gallup, negative emotions are highest in the Middle East and North Africa, with Iraq, Bahrain, and the Palestinian Territories leading the world in negative daily experiences. Latin America leads the world when it comes to positive emotions, with Panama, Paraguay, and Venezuela at the top of that list.
The least emotional country, says the survey, is Singapore, where they have a high employment rate and the GDP is one of the highest in the world, but where citizens apparently experience barely any positive emotions. Gallup concluded that it takes more than high incomes to increase positive emotions and actually advises Singapore's one-party state to start thinking about the wellbeing of its citizens. No word on their advice for Palestinians or Iraqis.
It's something I think about a lot, both as a journalist and a fiction writer. If we were totally pleased, I wouldn't have much to write in either professions, but at the same time I'm always interested at looking for solutions to unnecessary problems.
But first one needs to know what question to ask, and to ask them for something other than infotainment.
In late-breaking survey news, Canada is the 9th least corrupt country on Earth. Not sure if that is great news about us or if it just emphasizes what a mess the world is in.
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