Last week Maureen Dowd wrote a column about how the France had fallen into a mood of general malaise. Today Roger Cohen wrote a column saying that he'd said the same thing back in the 1990s, but now realized that pessimism or cynicism was an enduring characteristic of the French. Dowd seemed to say the same thing at the end of her column--the difference is that Cohen seemed to think it was just a foible while Dowd seemed to think it indicates something profoundly wrong with the French (which is not to single out the French--she seems to think there's something profoundly wrong with virtually everyone).
There have been quite a few international surveys that ask people about happiness or related issues. The World Values Survey includes both a question on happiness--"taking all things together, would you say you are very happy, rather happy, not very happy, or not at all happy?"--and one on satisfaction "all things considered, how satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days?" (rate on a scale of 1 to 10). On average happiness, France ranks 14th out of 57 countries in the 2005-6 wave. That is a bit low given its economic level, but not remarkable (ahead of Italy, Spain, and Germany). But France is only 34th on satisfaction, the lowest of any "Western" nation (Western Europe plus Canada, the US, Australia, and New Zealand) in the survey. The figure below gives more detail on those nations: