Thursday, July 24, 2014

How happy?

Happy vs. unhappy; it's a challenging question of interest to us all.  What are the factors that make us satisfied with our lives and comfortable about our prospects?

The question has been of interest to psychologists, politicians, economists, preachers, and parents since the beginning. Interestingly, the answers emerging from modern studies are what we might expect.  Food and shelter, safety and security, home and family, health and stability, all are part of the equation.

Referred to as 'subjective well-being' (since 'happy' is perhaps an imprecise term), the measurement is complex when applied across cultural and international borders, but the results are enlightening.  What emerges from the studies is that wealth is not the key factor.  Having enough checks the box, having more is of rapidly decreasing significance when subjective well-being is the goal.  We knew that.
[Ref:  More money makes less difference in terms of happiness, and getting it takes up more and more of your life.  Chasing wealth (and more 'things') will likely deprive you of the happiness you hoped to gain.]
In recent years, governments have been challenged to refocus on the well-being of their citizenry rather than on economic factors alone.  A recent survey (Easton, 2006) found that 81% of the UK population agreed that the Government’s primary objective should be the creation of happiness not wealth. David Cameron, HM Leader of the Opposition, put happiness firmly on the political agenda by arguing that “It’s time we admitted that there’s more to life than money, and it’s time we focused not just on GDP, but on GWB – general well-being" (BBC, 2006).

Poverty, as one might expect, is a significant impediment to happiness, but it is not just the lack of money.  The factors involved in poverty cover all categories.  Lack of a way out is the big one, but the list of relevant factors affecting 'subjective well-being' includes adequate food and shelter, safety and security, healthcare, equal access to education, opportunity for upward mobility, a voice in things that matter.
Poverty is not a circumstance anyone chooses, and given the opportunity, all will take the first exit regardless of how hard the path might be.  From every study, we understand that poverty is externally imposed as a sub-category under oppression.  It is something that is done to others by policy, prejudice, corruption, indifference, and selfishness.  The results are marginalization and disempowerment. 

What does the map show?  It might easily and accurately be described as a representation of the degree of freedom a nation provides.  A recognition of the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Not that any nation is perfect, of course; so much remains inadequately addressed and unresolved in even the best of the lot, but such freedom as they provide has remarkable impact on how people view their lives, their well-being.

So, what do we have to offer the world?

Note from generations past:  "Happiness is for pigs," according to my father and his side of the family, but they were farmers and had pigs that rolled around happily in the mud, so you can perhaps allow them their perspective.  "Joy," however, he would go on to explain, "comes from doing for others."  That, and a lot more; he was a wise gentlemen.  After so many years now, I'm inclined to agree, and fortunately, my wife thinks the same way.  Thank you Dad.  Thank you Father.