Are Jamaicans happy for the wrong reasons?

MARK WIGNALL

Thursday, June 21, 2012

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WHILE I am aware that one man's pleasure may be another man's poison, I cannot easily fathom why Jamaicans are rated among the world's happiest people, according to a UN-commissioned World Happiness Report.

I have not read the report, but I am certain that if I did I would be even more confused than I am now and who knows, maybe I would be less happy. Ha-ha.

According to The Gleaner article of June 20 which announced it, "Denmark, Finland, Norway, Netherlands and Canada scored the highest on the index, and Togo the lowest.

"Jamaica aside, the happiest countries in the region were found to be Costa Rica, Venezuela, Panama, Mexico and Brazil. The report found that Hispaniola, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, respectively, were the least happy regionally."

The article, "Jamaicans among world's happiest - UN" also stated, "The findings, released in April, indicate the island was most negatively affected by corruption and lacklustre growth. However, when those measures are discounted, Jamaica ranks among the world's happiest people.

"Helliwell, professor emeritus of economics at the University of British Columbia, told Wednesday Business in an interview that a country's rank was due to the interplay of the potential for happiness with social support, health and life expectancy, corruption and freedom to choose."

A Jamaican with $20 million in the bank and filled with much anxiety over losing it may feel that he has good reason to scold another man who is ecstatically happy with $2,000 in his bank account, a drink of rum in his hand, three children to feed, two women to hide from and only slim prospects of regular work.

The question is, which of them ought to be happier, and who ought to be the judge? Other questions could be: does scoring high on the index which saw the people of Denmark, Finland, Norway, Netherlands and Canada coming out on top really capture what we know as "happiness"?

Is an overall feeling of security more important than feeling high on life? Could a mentally disturbed man (read nation) be more happy than a normally adjusted person? Could the quality of family life, health, creature comforts, income security and general safety create unhappiness based on the high expectation from a particular group?

Could people with low expectations be more happy? And most important, can the level of happiness be captured in a survey? I think not.

Years ago in the 1970s when I worked eight to four, I did an informal survey among workers (sample 70) asking the question, "What makes you happy?"

The responses from the women were diametrically opposed to those from the men. Granted, the age grouping was fairly young (25 to 35), and it probably explains the bias the men in the survey had towards sexual matters.

The majority of the women spoke of family, further education and quality of friendship, while the men, who had about the same level of education as the women, were overfocused on sex. Surprisingly, one man said that "finding God" would make him most happy.

To me, happiness can only be measured over a lengthy period. It ought to be no surprise to me that the European countries would score the highest simply because their people have been "developed" for many years. If I should dare to play Charles Dickens' Scrooge, what then is our excuse for being happy?

For starters, there are many Jamaicas in this one Jamaica. To me, the result of the happiness quotient in one Jamaica may be the same in another Jamaica, but the measuring components cannot be the same.

A poor woman with four children may be extremely happy because one of them made it to university, which in the present scheme of things may be considered awesome, while an uptown householder may express disappointment (unhappiness?) because one of her four children, all university graduates, is
a lesbian.

At times, it appears that Jamaicans at street level may be happy for the wrong reasons, but who am I to judge? "A 10 pickney mi get. Mi a nuh bwoy!" a man may say while thumping his chest and laughing. If he is happy about that because it defines his narrow image of masculinity, who are we to say, "You are wrong, man"?

It is said in the article that Jamaica's happiness was most negatively affected by corruption and lacklustre growth. That tells me that academics are too often willing to make conclusions based on their own ideas of what ought to define happiness.

I have never met a Jamaican who is genuinely expressive of a need to end corruption in the society, as he is desirous of sharing in the corruption. As to poor growth, that comes out in the expression of men and women constantly complaining of lack of jobs.

What I will admit is that Jamaicans at street level are no less hungry for material gain than the man in Cherry Gardens is for the new model 2013 Jaguar. At the core of it is self-definition or a need to rise to another level, usually material.

Frankly, I believe that people who are really happy have no need to express the state to others. Strong family bonds, material well-being, a spiritual base or claim, freedom of movement and fairly good health are some of those qualities which I have observed to constitute the elusive happiness.

The poor woman who has just scored a win at Cash Pot may be ecstatic, but it is not so much the win as her enhanced ability to fund the family pot and send her children to school for the rest of the week. The rich man, in flying first-class to Miami, may be happy because his youngest child just graduated from Princeton.

For the moment, both of them are in similar states of happiness. Surveys will never capture that, simply because the researchers cannot live in people's heads and homes, day in and day out.

observemark@gmail.com


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