Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Happiness Measurement

I woke up this morning to see in (BBC) Breakfast News interviews about measuring happiness. Apparently, the leader of this country Prime Minister David Cameron suggested this idea – along with his big term like “Big Society” – amid all the budget cuts that might throw some poor people deeper into poverty.

Articles about happiness are all over the media today. BBC Magazine published an article by Michael Blastland, “Why is it hard to measure happiness “ (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-11765401). Whilst The Guardian contemplated deeper into the philosophy of happiness from the utilitarian point of view to Heidegger’s analysis of technology with the idea that life is something to be controlled and mastered (“What philosophy tells us about the happiness index” http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/nov/15/happiness-index-philosophy).

Reading all of this is amusing and entertaining. Yet it makes me think. What is happiness for me, for us common Earth dweller? How do we measure it (or do we need to and do we want to measure it)?

I am going to send the next few paragraphs as a comment for the article in BBC:

Indeed happiness is subjective and very personal. For me, I don’t really care about GDP, or whether or not I can buy new clothes every so often or not. My family has a roof to shelter for, we can afford some (healthy) food everyday, and my son gets the best education that he deserve to fulfil his dreams one day, that is the most important thing for me now.

Yet, even this personal measure changes over the years. When I was a teenager, being able to hang out with my friends around campfires and going hiking played a great deal in my happiness factors. In my career as an aviation journalist, taking pictures and writing about Concorde was the highlight of my life then. Now in my late thirties with a teenager son who wants to be a particle physicist like Brian Cox, seeing him flourishing in school is a great joy. So, I can say that I am happy in general. There are of course things that can me grumpy, but they do not count for my whole happiness, contentment and well-being.

Again, the measurement varies all too broadly. My friends who love shopping, came back from New York very happy – at least for me they looked happy – with so many new shoes, perfumes, clothes and all the “Sex and the City” likes. I would not be so happy walking in Trafford Centre among all the glittery fashion as I just don’t enjoy them. My next door neighbour looks very happy holding his newborn baby in the weekend, yet the next day he looks so tired and said he was looking forward to go back to work for a bit of “peace”. Relative. Personal. Immeasurable. Abstract.

Still, I have one formula that always succeeds in reminding me of how happy I actually am. Content is the word that is more suitable for this.

My formula is a song from Disney’s “Jungle Book” sung by Baloo the bear. It says, “Look for the bare necessities, the simple bare necessities. Forget about the worries and strive…. When you found out you can live without it then go along not thinking about it! I tell you something good: the bare necessities of life will come to you.” This song is about discerning between need and want, about being content and appreciate what we have – after all, there are always people who sleep in refugee camps and cannot afford food, there are babies dying everyday of curable diseases only because they do not have affordable health care. The list of less fortunate people can go as long as forever.

So, at the end of the day, am I happy? I think yes, I am very happy. Our parents and grandparents got it right when they say repeatedly, “Count your blessings, love. Count your blessings.”

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