I'm also interested to get back to Western Europe as recently in one of my classes I had to read In Our Hands: A Plan to Replace the Welfare State by Charles Murray. Needless to say, this somewhat controversial book sparked a great discussion in the class, as our country is now enacting a huge "stimulus package". Throughout the book, Murray refers to Western Europe as "the Canary in the Coal Mine". He argues that the more rigorous implementation of the Welfare State has caused "the idea of work as means to self-fulfillment" to fade. Further, he claims that this has resulted in decreased happiness in Western Europe.
I definitely witnessed the first part of Murray's observation when I lived in Spain last year. However, it seemed that instead of finding self-fulfillment in work, my European friends found it in other leisure activities, such as spending time with the family. I don't know which results in happier people: a purposeful vocation or time to spend with the family. I do know I'll be keeping count of the smiling faces I see in the streets, just so I can prepare myself for the possible consequences of this U.S. swing towards Socialism!!