The Happy Planet Index: Happiest in Green, Least Happy in BrownSince the State of the Union address, we've heard a lot more about "Winning the Future." Politicians, especially social democrats such as Obama, have fixated on creating jobs, educating future generations, and modernizing infrastructure. These are all important undertakings. However, they're being pitched as part of a program to outcompete the rest of the world, to maintain 'American exceptionalism.' There has been a unilateral acceptance in political circles that this is a necessity. We need to ask ourselves an important question. Why is it so important for us to able to consider ourselves the most powerful, economically competitive nation in the world? In fact, why is it necessary to maintain fierce competition at all? What America does best is not beating the rest of the world, but working with it. In fact, the rich cultural traditions (cuisine, art, literature, etc.) and hardworking innovation of immigrants have enhanced the quality of life in America for centuries, amalgamating new systems of thought into our proverbial "melting pot." We specialize in taking the ideas of others and improving them. For instance, the automobile was invented in France, but popularized in the United States, where Ford's invention of the assembly line took commercial production to new levels. Cricket was invented in Britain, but Alexander Cartwright created a codified variation on it that was more fast-paced. He called it baseball; attendance and TV ratings for the sport now outpace the slower English game. Democracy began in ancient Greece, but it had its earliest robust manifestation here, in the form of our groundbreaking Constitution. And, many of the 150,000 US patents granted each year come in the form of improvements to products and designs that began development in foreign nations. In short, we are at our best when we collaborate and share ideas, not when we choose isolationism in the name of competitiveness. There is no clear purpose to having the most exports or the best science test scores. What truly matters is that American quality of life is exemplary and people are happy. Who wouldn't agree that this is desirable? However, as the map above shows, our quality of life (measured by life expectancy, reported happiness, and low impact on the environment) is among the worst. Our hyper-competitive, consumptive lifestyles aren't paying off right now. Why should we gamble on them working out in the future? Cooperation, not competition, is a sound strategy. At the risk of sounding hokey, I say that we should all win the future. And if we restrict 'all' to American citizens, that's a terrible starting point. The future won't be worth winning if it's a zero-sum game.