If only happiness is a one-peso candy (The World Database Happiness Report)

What makes you happy?

The last time somebody asked me this question, I just gave a stare that said almost like none-of-your-business attitude. Happiness, as I see it, is a non-static emotional state. We do not hold it in our hands because the moment you thought you have it, it has already escaped your grasp. And such is my argument against the recently released report on happiness index that ranked the world’s countries based on the perceived “happiness” of its inhabitants.

I just cannot remember the last time when I was happy in the real sense of the word. For one, having a lot of money doesn’t make me happy, although it helps a bit. Doing well in my career as a fledgling member of the academia isn’t that much. Traveling and and experiencing new things almost everyday do not figure really well in my happiest memories.

Perhaps I am already jaded by all these helluva of good things that come my way, that having one so-so addition is like a spoonful of salt added to the ocean. Negligible.

When I try to look back at the things I’ve been through, the times I remember I was the happiest were the times of my childhood sharing with my sibling multi-colored candies we called then “Bubot”. This was already enough to complete our day. We played with plants that bear red fruits (which I was never able to name even when I was studying botany) that smeared our clothes, received our gifts from visiting aunts after waking up from the afternoon siesta, all these things, aside from the fact that they were parts of my childhood recollection, are very simple things, that given a chance now, I will wholeheartedly exchange with my supposedly “exciting” and therefore “happy” life.

All things that comprise happiness are grounded upon simplicity. Looking back at the criteria and indicators used by the University of Leicester and the World Database of Happiness from Erasmus University in Rotterdam that conducted the survey among 80,000 respondents worldwide, developed countries in Europe led the list with Bahamas and Bhutan the only poor countries included in the top ten.

1 Denmark
2 Switzerland
3 Austria
4 Iceland
5 Bahamas
6 Finland
7 Sweden
8 Bhutan
9 Brunei
10 Canada

Despite the fact that poverty is often romanticized saying that poor, disadvantaged, marginalized people are generally happy, this survey result proved otherwise. Most of these countries are technically welfare state; meaning that a big percentage of the taxes paid by the citizens goes to pay for excellent health care system, universal education up to the tertiary level among other things. They also have among the highest per capita income in the world and needless to say the biggest GDP. However, this survey is not open for a stern generalization as Bhutan is ruled by an autocratic monarch and Bahamas a poor island in the Caribbean.

This survey might sound interesting, for indeed it is. But it’s still not apparent how they’ve come up with their operational definition of what happiness is. Denmark has the world’s second highest incidence of suicide, now if that is a sign of happiness, then I’m now totally confused as to what happiness means. Or are Danes just happy slashing their wrists or putting bullets in their heads?

Happiness, for me, is something spiritual, and looking at this survey, it seemed that the faculty of both universities committed a grave sociological blunder by trying to measure happiness, perceived or otherwise, and once again ranking the nations of the world in a seemingly seamless, matter-of-factly, unprejudiced, “scientific” inquiry. Happiness as if it is a matter of national pride.

I don’t hold happiness, and I believe, neither do you.

Let’s keep it this way.


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