Why are we so happy?

A recent survey published by the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom named Denmark "the happiest place on earth."  I immediately wondered whether the survey was taken after violence against Danes flared up in the Muslim world following the publication of controversial cartoons in the Danish Jylland-Posten newspaper in September 2005.  If I were Danish, I still would not wear a Danish flag when traveling outside Europe for fear of possible reprise.
I noted that the United States is ranked higher than most European countries, with the exception of Scandinavian countries and other small states such as Switzerland and Austria.  European countries traditionally rank high in terms of quality of life, and many people assume that European life is more satisfying (happy) than American life.  That may not be the case.  At the same time, Americans often seem discontent and angst-ridden, particularly when it comes to dealing with world events, politics, and economics.  Perhaps life is not as bad as it seems to some Americans.
I also thought it interesting that residents of the New World (North and South) appear to be generally happier than those in the Old World (with the exception of Cubans), and although Asian and Oceania Pacific Rim nations ranked generally lower, as a group their happiness factors were higher than those in Central/South Asia and the Middle East.  One big surprise–Saudi Arabia.  Perhaps Saudis are among the happiest people because they are flush with petrodollars.  African nations, as expected, generally ranked at the bottom of the survey.
Here’s a condensed list of country listed in order of their happiness factor:

1.   Denmark

2.   Switzerland

3.   Austria

4.   Iceland

5.   The Bahamas

23. United States of America

41. United Kingdom

82. China

90. Japan

125. India

177. Zimbabwe

178. Burundi

Lost in translation

Today, while out and about with my son, I heard this comment in English for umpteenth time from a Korean:  "Your son is more handsome than you."
If you are a native English speaker, how do you interpret this comment?  It could mean any of the following:
  • "You are handsome, but your son is more handsome than you."
  • "You are ugly, but your son is handsome."
  • "Your son must have gone his good looks from his mom, because he surely could not have gotten them from you."
  • "You and your son are very handsome, and you imparted your best qualities to him."
  • A throw-away comment that means absolutely nothing.

So, which one is it? 


I asked a Korean what it means to a Korean.


Actually,  to Koreans, this utterance is a throw-away comment, something Koreans say to fathers with cute kids.  It’s intended to be small talk, not a referendum on the child’s looks or the father’s appearance.


Now how would a native English speaker interpret that comment?


I may be wrong, but I believe most English speakers would find the comment a bit negative.  Akin to the Chinese comment frequently uttered about people’s weight, "You look fat," (which in its purest sense means you look healthy, not fat), "Your son is more handsome than you" is the kind of comment that can be easily misinterpreted in English.  If you are a narcissist, you might assume that it means you are handsome and have great genes.  If you have self-esteem issues and/or are self-deprecating, you would probably take it to mean that you are ugly while your son is handsome.

I suspected that the comment is a rough interpretation of a common Korean phrase.  I assumed too that it is intended to be a complimentary comment.  It’s just too bad that Koreans have no idea how bad it can sound in English!