by Primrose Oteng
Last week, the Happy Planet Index ranked Botswana the unhappiest place on earth!
There are various happiness indices used around the world, each measuring happiness using given criteria. Whether you agree with them or not, given our own life experience, it’s an irrefutable fact that happiness matters!
Happiness is not about fluffy sentimentalism. It strikes at the heart of our development as a nation. Happiness, or well-being, impacts more than the individual. It affects how well we fare at school and at work. Further, happiness has a bearing on our productivity at work; staff absenteeism and retention; and the overall value of any organisation.
In research conducted on creating sustainable performance, and published in the Harvard Business Review, Gretchen Spreitzer and Christine Porath state: “happy employees produce more than unhappy ones...they routinely show up at work, they’re less likely to quit...and they go above and beyond the call of duty.” In short, happiness is not only good for us personally; it’s good for business.
This is so much so that on 19 July 2011, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted a Resolution about Happiness. It described happiness as “a fundamental human goal.” The resolution also invited Member States to give more importance to happiness and well-being, in determining social and economic progress.
Why is that important?
Well, former United Kingdom Economic Minister, Peter Mandelson, put it this way: “To use economic measurements alone to gauge the success of a nation would be equivalent to assessing the entire condition of a man simply by looking at his bank balance.”
That’s because economic prosperity simply contributes to success and happiness; it does not guarantee it.
Yet we all want to be successful; and everything we do and want is because we believe we’ll be happier once we have it. So isn’t it time we took our own happiness seriously; and started taking active steps towards it?
For years now, countries like Bhutan have used Gross National Happiness, rather than Gross National Product, as their marker of success. Developed nations such as Denmark and the United Kingdom also regularly assess and use their population’s happiness to inform the extent of their progress. Every day around the world, people are waking up to the irrevocable truth that individual well-being is an integral part of sustainable solutions to poverty and conflict. If we’re interested in maintaining Botswana’s formidable pace of development; and track record as the most peaceful country in Africa, we must follow suit.
But just how do we do this?
First, we should start a national discourse about what makes us happy as a nation; and find ways to regularly measure whether our aspirations are indeed being met. Clearly, any measure used should not be overly-reliant on economic indicators, because as that great American President, John F. Kennedy, put it: “Gross National Product...does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play...It measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile.” And we all want to feel our lives are worthwhile.
But how do we create a happy nation? After all, one man’s drink is another man’s poison. Yet studies show there are fundamental issues that contribute to our happiness.
These include, amongst others, a good education and quality of life. Our quality of life, in turn, is affected by things such as extreme poverty and unemployment. Similarly, media reporting influences happiness – the more negative the media reporting, the more negative the impact on our happiness.
Yet of all of these factors, freedom, particularly political freedom, is the most essential to our happiness. Following extensive research, psychologist, Ruut Veenhoven, concluded that: “People live happiest in economically well-developed nations that are well-governed and allow their citizens a lot of freedom.” Being able to express a political opinion without fear makes us happy. Low levels of corruption also contribute to higher levels of national well-being.
On a more subjective level, studies show that some of the things that contribute to our happiness are autonomy over our lives. Even where we work under other people, we want to feel like we are the captains of our ships; the masters of our soul.
At work, factors that influence our happiness include, having decision-making discretion, as well as the sharing information. Minimising secrecy and fostering inclusiveness increase people’s sense of well-being. Furthermore, minimising incivility, where colleagues are barely on speaking terms, or are hostile to each other to the level that it actually affects results and output, affects us all negatively. Finally, offering performance feedback to staff - including against stated goals and objectives, also increases our happiness at work.
What about on an individual level, how can we increase our own happiness?
As we have all learned by now, happiness is an inside job! We cultivate it by renewing our mental patterns, and adopting a more positive mindset. This is vital for both personal and national progress.
Positivity has been scientifically proven to broaden our minds; it allows us to see solutions to problems that previously eluded us. Being positive also does not simply reflect success and health, it actually produces success and health. In other words, don’t wait to become successful before you become happy. Be happy first, then success will follow!
Starting this week, monitor your feelings carefully. If you’re unhappy, your job is to find any thought that makes you feel better. Keep practising! Our thoughts affect our happiness and ultimately the level of success we enjoy in our lives.
Going forward, let’s work to become happier as individuals and as a nation. This is not as difficult as it sounds, remember, happiness is our birth right.
“We can gradually grow into any condition we desire, provided we first make ourselves in habitual mental attitude the person who corresponds to those conditions.” Thomas Troward.
Primrose Oteng is a Master of Applied Positive Psychology and the Founder of the Positive Peace Project, an organisation dedicated to creating positive change through personal empowerment. www.positivepeaceproject.co.bw