Tuesday, July 5, 2022

The Happy Nation!

On 19 July 2011, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted a Resolution about Happiness. The Resolution said, “The pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal;” and it invited UN Member States to give more importance to happiness and well-being in determining how to achieve and measure social and economic development.

It also noted that the gross domestic product of a nation does not adequately reflect the happiness and well-being of its citizens. It called on nations to develop measures of happiness and well-being and use them to guide their national policies.

This idea really isn’t all that radical. Decades ago, that great visionary, John F. Kennedy, argued that Gross National Product (GNP) was no longer a true measure of the success of a nation.

He said: “Gross national product does not allow for the health of our children [or] the quality of their education. It does not include…the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”

More recently, Peter Mandelson, former U.K. Economic Minister, 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.”

In summary, economic prosperity contributes to success and happiness; it does not guarantee it. In fact, more than ever people, including in developed countries, are finding themselves with big houses and broken homes, high incomes and low morale.

This fact has prompted many nations to conduct key discussions about how to measure and increase the happiness of their populations. Well-being is increasingly being seen as an integral part of sustainable solutions to poverty and conflict.

Major global companies, such as Coca Cola, have sponsored the creation and use of happiness indices to assist nations to measure how happy they are; and determine how they could increase their levels of happiness.

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 use population happiness to inform the extent of their progress.

What does all of this mean? It means that happiness is not a side-show. It is a “fundamental goal” that should interest us all. It affects our lives; our work force; and the course of our entire nation.

This week, Botswana celebrates 45 years of independence. Many people would agree with our first President, Sir Seretse Khama, that: “(We) Batswana are not desperate beggars.” Yet it’s also clear that we have a lot of room for improvement.

How can we improve?

By finding ways to measure how happy we are as a nation, which are not overly-reliant on economic indicators; and then increasing that happiness.

Measuring ‘objective well-being’ is never straight-forward – what makes you happy may not make me happy. But studies suggest that there are fundamental issues that contribute to our happiness.

These include, amongst others, a good education; healthy life expectancy; and quality of life. Quality of life is affected by things such as extreme poverty and unemployment.

Economic dynamism, affected by things such as diversification; and the belief that working hard gets you ahead, also contributes to the happiness of a nation.

Similarly, media reporting influences happiness, but given the propensity towards negativity of most media (‘if it bleeds, it leads’), it is not seen as contributing much to the happiness of nations.

Yet of all of these factors, freedom, particularly political freedom, is seen as the most essential to 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 in a nation also contribute to the well-being of its citizens.

It’s no coincidence that the happiest nations in the world, including Norway, Denmark, Finland and Sweden, amongst others, have a high degree of political freedom and are also amongst the least corrupt. Zimbabwe, followed by Pakistan, was found to be the least happy nation in one study carried out in 2010.

On a more subjective level, studies show that some of the things that contribute to our happiness are autonomy over our lives, as well as social support.

But whether we’re talking about individual or collective well-being, it plays a greater role in the outcome of our lives; and the future of our country, than we might realise.

Happiness, including through cultivating a positive mindset, is key for progress. It broadens our minds and allows us to see solutions to problems that previously eluded us.

Being positive also produces success and health. We should not wait to become successful before we being happy; let us become happy first; and the success will follow.

What’s more, positivity begets positivity ÔÇô it leads to even more things to feel positive about in our lives.

Most people don’t believe that deliberately increasing our happiness could affect the prosperity of a nation ÔÇô it seems too simple – yet it does!

Going forward, let us become a happier nation; including by starting our own national discourse about what makes us happy; and using it to guide our national policies.

Individually, we should do more of those things that we know bring us joy.

Remember; “A happy life is just a string of happy moments. But most people don’t allow the happy moment, because they’re so busy trying to get a happy life.” Abraham.

*Primrose Oteng is a Master of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) and the Founder of the Positive Peace Project, an organization dedicated to creating positive change through personal empowerment. For more information regarding how we can help you or your company, please contact [email protected]

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