Just over two years ago, American singer Pharrell Williams released a refreshingly uplifting song entitled Happy. With catchy lyrics and a contagious melody, the song highlighted a state of personal happiness, urging listeners to “clap along if you feel happiness is the truth” or “if you know what happiness is to you”.
Happy became an instant hit. It not only topped the international music charts but also triggered a video craze with more than 1,000 persons around the world recording and posting their own versions on YouTube, the video-sharing social media site on the World Wide Web.
The phenomenal success of Happy was not surprising. It speaks directly to a common universal human yearning, regardless of gender, ethnicity, social origin, religion or place of abode. Everyone, as an overriding objective in life, strives to get an experience of true happiness, however they define it.
For some, happiness is striking it rich by, for example, winning the lottery. For others, it is landing a well-paying job or finding and settling down with the ideal partner. Yet for others, it is acquiring a dream home or fancy car. Some, however, go beyond the fleeting material things of this world and seek happiness through spiritual enlightenment.
Since 2012, the United Nations has been devoting attention to measuring the state of world happiness within the context of the pursuit of sustainable development as a global economic goal. These efforts to date have led to the publication of three World Happiness Reports. The latest was released ahead of World Happiness Day this past Sunday which went unnoticed in Barbados.
In essence, this initiative seeks to draw attention to the need for countries, especially governments when formulating public policy, to make human happiness the overriding objective of development. “The cause of happiness as a primary goal for public policy continues to make good progress,” observed the 2016 Report, referring to the appointment of ministers of happiness so far in four countries – Bhutan, Ecuador, United Arab Emirates and Venezuela.
Barbados does not feature in the 2016 “happiness” rankings of 157 countries where Denmark is rated no.1, followed respectively by Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, Finland and Canada. Of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries included, Suriname has the highest ranking at 40, followed by Trinidad and Tobago at 43, Belize at 52, Jamaica at 73 and Haiti at 156 respectively.
The measurement of a country’s happiness is based on approximately 1,000 individual life evaluations per year in each of the countries covered by the survey. Respondents are asked the following question: “Please imagine a ladder, with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time?”
The answer to this question, reflecting subjective well-being, provides insights into the respondents’ level of happiness at the time. If Barbadians were to answer this question now, their overall response is quite easily predictable. Based on the various manifestations of public discontent, it is fair to say that there seems to be quite a bit of unhappiness in Barbados today related to the general state of the country’s affairs.
Happiness in Barbados was the subject of a research paper written eight years ago by Carlos Walkes, at the time an economics student at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill. Yielding some rather interesting findings, the report was presented at the 29th Annual Review Seminar of the Research Department of the Central Bank of Barbados in July 2008. The study found that, on average, Barbadians were “slightly happy”.
In terms of a breakdown, Bajan Hindus and Muslims were found to be happier than Christians while men were “marginally happier” than women. Having a job, however, was identified as a major source of happiness for Barbadians.
The report observed: “The happiness level of Barbadians increases with their annual income and married persons are substantially more satisfied with their lives than unmarried persons.” Marriage, therefore, is a significant contributor to happiness in the Barbadian context because of the obvious security which such a relationship brings.
Much has transpired since 2008 in relation to changes in the public mood. As a result, there is an obvious need for a more detailed, follow-up study. However, the 2008 study provides a very important lesson for any incumbent or aspiring government. It is that a government’s success hinges, more than everything else, on the implementation of policies which put Barbadians to work instead of causing them to end up on the breadline.
Whatever the future holds, here’s to our collective happiness!