Is Effectiveness Killing Happiness?

Development practitioners have a very big responsibility. Our job will always affect people.This affirmation is not to increase our self-importance, but rather to make us reflect on how every intervention can affect the course of human lives for many years to come.

As a student, I am increasingly worried about our ‘numerization’ of results. Today, world wide systems work according to the ‘market logic’. As a result, everything can be measured by a given scale, and happiness is no exception.  Happiness reports are highly influenced by Benthams’s work. According to Davies (2015) Betham was a policy maker who decided that political decisions had to be made accountable. In short, he created this concept in order  to convert political decisions into hard, empirical data. He argued that nouns such as ‘goodness’, ‘duty’, ‘mind’ were abstract propositions and that the more abstract these nouns were, the more false perceptions they held. On the other hand, happiness is not about smiling all day and being cheerful; to me, that would be excitement. The Dalai Lama describes it as neutral experience that can bring deep satisfaction.

The happiness report that was released on the 21st of March,  bases its ranking on the economic power and decision making capabilities of each nation. As a result, wealthier countries appear at the top of the table: Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, and Finland. These countries measure happiness through a ‘numerical perspective’. Measuring today’s happiness is made in a non-abstract way. Contrastingly, the video below involves only abstract nouns. There is no clear definition of income, acquisitive power, or social level of  influence.

If you feel the same as I did with this video, it left you feeling like you want  to go out and do the best you can do to help yourself and others. In my opinion, that very heartwarming sensation is what happiness is. That said, my background is not in psychology, so my claim might be biased or even incorrect. However,  I am certain that happiness is not a numerical value.

This statement does not mean to dismiss the Happiness Report. On the contrary, I believe that it is an excellent initiative. However, I do think that the report needs to be more comprehensive and consider alternative ways to measure happiness. When we are trying to transform a society,we can not assume that increasing wealth will necessarily translate into an increase in well-being. For example, let us consider  South Korea of the most amazing countries in terms of economic development, but one of the worst countries in terms of happiness. In the Happiness Report of 2016 South Korea was ranked in the 58th place under ‘happiness’,  but came in second place in highest suicide rates. This proves that the measurement is incomplete and still needs to be  improved further. On the other hand, Jamaica is ranked as the  73th happiest place in the report, but according to WHO, it is the 6th coutry with lowest suicide rates.  I used suicide rates as a counter measure of the Happiness Report as suicide represents ‘depression and unwillingness to live’ and happiness means ‘fulfillment and will to live’.

Overall, my message for you today is to think about what happiness and well being mean to the community you are setting out to assist. Question everything, as there is still so much we do not know. After all, a simple happiness measurement does not reflect the complexity of humanity itself, as happiness is as complex as our nature.

Davies, William (2015) The Happiness Industry. Verso, London. UK.

Marketing & Partnerships (2016)

If you are interested in reading more about development and happiness have a look at these articles:

The Happiness Metric; Happy Life, Sustainable Life; Freedom and Consumption

One Reply to “Is Effectiveness Killing Happiness?”

  1. I like the heading – it is very profound and so fitting today. The line sent me ‘back’ (that is to take one step back and re-evaluate myself).

    That is an area that I will be looking at when assessing myself.

    — I a an Alumni of the JCU MDP, Class of 2014 and from Papua New Guinea.

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