One of the tricks to being happy is not to compare your own situation with that of other people. We have known this for centuries and yet we just can't help ourselves.

As a nation it's one of our biggest failings. If there's an international comparison to be made, we're up for it.

We have the world's most beautiful scenery, best national rugby team and biggest swing (Queenstown). And the Southern Hemisphere's largest wooden building (Government Buildings, Wellington).

But the OECD report that saw us tied with Mexico for reduced growth as a result of increased inequality certainly ruffled a few feathers. None more so than those of Finance Minister Bill English, who told National Radio that 50 per cent of New Zealand households pay no tax at all.

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This is terrible news. It means that English is not aware of the existence of the goods and services tax - which is frequently touted as the most efficiently set-up GST in the world.

This kick in the national teeth came within hours of our being named the "world's best country" - a gong courtesy of the British Daily Telegraph's annual survey of its readers' favourite travel companies and destinations.

Runner-up was the Maldives, which presumably will take over the role if for any reason we are unable to fulfil our duties.

Prime Minister John Key described this as a great accolade and it almost certainly is if your sense of national self worth depends on what the readers of a middle-brow British newspaper think of you.

We were still basking in that glow when it was suddenly dimmed with the announcement that the latest climate change performance index rates our efforts to do anything at all about the challenge of climate change as very poor indeed, falling in a year from 41st to 48th place in the list of 58 countries, to land just ahead of such green role models as the United States and China.

It gets worse. Recently we were knocked off the smug perch labelled "world's least corrupt nation" - one of our favourite titles - by Denmark. One reason was that, unlike just about everywhere else not run by a psychopathic dictator, we've failed to ratify the United Nations Convention against Corruption. It's hard to imagine why.

We can only console ourselves with being dubbed the world's most socially advanced country (in April, by Washington-based think-tank the Social Progress Imperative) for so long.

Especially when we learn we have the world's fourth-highest gambling losses per resident adult - most of it in non-casino gaming machines - trailing behind Australia, Singapore and Finland.

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There was a time when although we acknowledged occasional signs of interest from the outside world, we set our own standards, chose our own priorities and went our own way.

We established a functioning welfare state and prided ourselves on the high standard of free education through to tertiary level. Compassion and common sense underlay political decisions and people were valued for who they were not for what they had.

From giving women the vote to taking a stand against the evils of nuclear weaponry, we did what we thought was right because we thought it was right, not because it compared well with what anyone else was doing.

We could go for decades without having a leader who sneeringly dismissed the fact that there are children in need. Although, to be fair, there weren't that many children in need.

We saw our natural environment as something to be treasured and protected for all time, not pillaged to turn a profit now because we're a bit short.

We were real world leaders then.