The writer Håkan Östlundh recently had a piece in Dagens Nyheter where he argues that the generation of novelists currently dominating the Swedish literary scene shares a streak of “depressive hedonism.” The image that fades into view is one of rampant mental health issues, indiscriminate drug use, and general disillusionment. Very bleak.

I found the text to be, predictably, depressing.

Not just because the argument it promotes aligns with my own limited empiricism, but also because Östlund does an excellent job. He dives deep into this new type of Nordic noir, and after he’s thoroughly soaked in the zeitgeist, he reports back to the rest of us in a way that really helps connect the dots.

I know just how hard and time-consuming this can be; I’ve tried my hand at a similar kind of endeavour a few times myself.

Then, as I turn the page, there’s another article about population-wide happiness and how we Swedes compare with our Norwegian neighbours.

Now, life in Norway is great, of course. Compared to Sweden, both unemployment and crime rates are negligible. Also, the economy is strong from decades of oil extraction. Everything seems to favor a nation full of super-duper happy people.

Still, it turns out, Swedes beat them to a higher ranking in this year’s edition of the UN World Happiness Report.

That’s sort of funny. Especially since Norwegians like to see themselves as the antithesis of what they think of as “the Swedish condition,” which is supposedly less than flattering.

I’m thinking of the generation of sad Swedish novelists and how they seem to have gotten things backward. Perhaps, at the end of the day, they’re not very representative of how “Swedes feel”, just like there might be a pinch of self-delusion in how Norwegians think of their nation as the epitome of happiness.

I guess things are rarely what they seem to be.