We need a happiness boost
Are we an unhappy people here in The Bahamas? I don’t have a definitive answer to this question based on any research; however, my general observation leads me to believe that the answer is ‘yes’.
I do not believe that we are unhappy or in despair of living, but rather that we despair of the present state of things in the country generally and are pessimistic about where they are headed in the future. Persistent pessimism or unhappiness is not good; it negatively affects group morale and that can lead to community disruption and dysfunction. I believe that we need a happiness boost and I believe we need it soon.
One of founders of the study of positive psychology, the late Dr. Chris Petersen, has dedicated his research to discovering what it is that produces happiness. His area of ‘positive psychology’ is not about ‘positive thinking’, where one seeks to create positive outcomes by thinking happy thoughts. Rather, positive psychology is research-backed information about what it is that goes into producing in people the sense that life is worth living – which is the true essence of happiness. Writing for Mindingtherapy.com, Ros Johnson wrote that among Petersen’s research findings were the following:
• Most people are happy;
• Happiness is a cause of good things in life and not merely something that comes along for the happy ride;
• People who are satisfied with life eventually have even more reason to be satisfied, because happiness leads to desirable outcomes at school and work, to fulfilling social relationships, and even to good health and long life;
• Most people are resilient;
• Happiness, strength of character and good social relationships are buffers against the damaging effects of disappointments and setbacks;
• Crisis reveals character;
• Other people matter mightily if we want to understand what makes life most worth living;
• Religion matters;
• Work matters, if it engages the worker and provides meaning and purpose;
• Money makes an ever-diminishing contribution to well-being, but money can buy happiness if it is spent on other people;
• As a route to a satisfying life, eudaimonia (happiness or human flourishing) trumps hedonism (pursuit of pleasure);
• The ‘heart’ matters more than the ‘head’;
• Schools explicitly teach critical thinking; they should also teach unconditional caring;
• Good days have common features: feeling autonomous, competent and connected to others; and the good life can be taught.
I believe that Dr. Petersen is on to something and that we can start with this list of findings to begin healing ourselves of what seems to be a growing epidemic of unhappiness, so often blamed on politics and personal grievance.
It is true that the government can do some things that might more positively affect the citizens of this nation and boost their happiness. However, even if the government does, I suspect that many people will still not be happy because the cause of their unhappiness is more deeply rooted. It is rooted in a disconnectedness from divinity; a lack of personal purpose; a fracture in the family network; a lack in net worth and self-worth; a gap between ambitions and education; flaws in character that most are unable or unwilling to address; among other things. These are deep challenges that can only be addressed by personal growth and development. The good news is that each of us can overcome these challenges if we are willing to try and persist at doing so.
Life has good and bad moments. Things change and constantly do. What we are in each moment presented to us determines in large measure how we endure them. This nation is having a bad moment. In my observation, the moment has lasted for quite some time now. We have not seen better days, economically, since the 90’s, and it has been much longer since we have seen a more glorious social day. This much is true, there is no one coming to the rescue and we cannot turn our situation around without intentional action on our part both individually and collectively. If we want happy days, we must pursue them and we might start with looking at the list above and seeing what we can do to begin the journey there. We need a boost; a happiness boost; and if we don’t get one soon, I fear that we will turn on each other in ways that will become our undoing. God help it not to be so. God help us to choose another path.
• Zhivargo Laing is a Bahamian economic consultant and former Cabinet minister who represented the Marco City constituency in the House of Assembly.