COLUMN – On improving our happiness
Yesterday, I sat under a tamarind tree on a shaky bench at my alma mater waiting for enough people to start a football match. As a naturally curious person, I observed that a sno-cone vendor was present plying his trade, mainly to a small group of netball players. That was curious because I knew Pan Pun De Sand was just a stone’s throw away, and there would be a bigger crowd. He could have easily set up to accommodate those walking from the bus terminals to the event –– or at the event itself.
However, after a brief inquiry, he stated he didn’t want to take all that noise from the beach affair, preferring to remain at the school on the Sunday.
That brings me to the exploration of the economics of happiness –– coincidentally, the Economics Of Happiness is also a documentary title.
The World Happiness Report seeks to track world happiness, and itself reflects more emphasis being placed on happiness as criteria for government policy. What is the point of development of a country at the expense of your citizens’ happiness?
Unfortunately, the report only lists three Caribbean places –– Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and Haiti –– out of the 158 countries surveyed.
The report states that countries with measures of high social capital ranked amongst the happiest countries. Social capital in the report was measured by the following:
1. Generalized trust (“Can most people be trusted?”);
2. Social support networks;
3. Generosity and voluntarism;
4. Perceptions of corruption in business and government.
Four quick points of the World Happiness Report 2015:
1. Social capital is a meaningful albeit broad concept that describes the extent of trust, social support networks, and (prosocial behaviour) in a society;
2. Societies differ systematically in the various dimensions of social capital;
3. The various dimensions of social capital tend to be correlated across countries, including interpersonal trust, social support systems, individual generosity, honesty in governance;
4. Societies with high social capital outperform those with low social capital in terms of subjective well-being and economic development.
It is noteworthy that the authors of the report believe generalized trust may be the best measure of social trust within a society. Generalized trust is also inversely related to corruption. That is, if generalized trust in a society is high, one would reasonably expect lower corruption; and if generalized trust was low, then you would reasonably expect higher corruption.
In terms of social well-being, “the trick” seems to be delaying immediate gratification and doing what is needed for the greater good. We all vary on our definitions of what is the greater good, and to what extent we should contribute to the greater good, because we don’t necessarily trust others to stick to their end of the social contract in all cases. An interesting example is removing sargassum weed from the beaches. There are certainly enough people in each Caribbean island to remove all of the seaweed from our collective shores. However, if we believe others wouldn’t do their fair share, fewer people will go out to do clean-ups; and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
This problem may be stretched to other areas of society as well.
The question of how the Nordic countries escaped the social trap and self-reinforcing distrusting societies to those where there are wonderful levels of trust, low corruption and social capital is an interesting enquiry. I will share the recommendations of the World Happiness Report 2015 on what countries can do to improve the happiness of their citizens (and also what citizens can do to ensure this happens).
Until then, whom do you trust?
And, how are you going to contribute to your and society’s happiness?
(To learn more about OurInterest’s financial products and receive weekly financial tips follow OurInterest on FaceBook –– https://www.facebook.com/OurInterestINC. For access to our quarterly newsletters simply email: email@example.com)