There is a big wave running over our planet, advocating we all must be happy. Numerous articles in as many papers promote happiness as the ultimate goal to achieve.
This month the United Nations have placed happiness on the global agenda: April 2nd, 2012, the UN launched the first World Happiness Report. Furthermore the UN implemented a resolution which was adopted unanimously by the General Assembly already in July 2011. One has to read carefully to learn that it is not only about happiness, but also about Human Wellbeing. Nevertheless, happiness plays a dominant role; a too dominant role, in my opinion.
I certainly support the idea of being happy, for myself, for my family and for all of you, wherever you live. It is generally accepted that achieving a certain level of wellbeing is a precondition for happiness. This means good health, enough to eat and to drink, proper housing etc. Many of us in the affluent Western countries have reached this stage and can afford ourselves next to everything we want. And now we start focusing on happiness, which we may, or maybe not, have achieved thanks to our high level of welfare. However, we should not forget that more than billion people on our planet are lacking even Basic Needs, let alone that they could start thinking on this fata morgana of happiness. I find it unacceptable that we – again the affluent minority – start spending time and energy on this newfound hobby when so much needs to be done for so many people before they will reach even a minimum level of welfare.
Remember that we have committed ourselves to a number of universal agreements, like
- Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), promising human rights, including basic needs for all of us.
- Six core human rights treaties, among these the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989)
- United Nations Millennium Declaration (2000), which promised a better world with less poverty, hunger and disease. The declaration established eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which are to be achieved in 2015.
So we have committed ourselves to solidarity with all our brothers and sisters. We are responsible for them and even liable if we fail in our duties.
We are blinded by the Triple A ratings, which stood very much in the spotlights over the last few years. We grow nervous and anxious when the economic growth of our country is stumbling a bit. While we focused on the Triple A ratings we have neglected the damage caused by the lack of basic needs: personal damage, which is by far the most dramatic aspect, but also economic damage. This is quite stupid. To give just two examples:
- A very rough estimate of already some ten years ago by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) suggests that the direct costs attributed to child and maternal undernourishment in developing countries add up to around US$30 billion per year.
- The World Bank's Water and Sanitation Programme (WSP) this month released a report which highlights that in African countries approximately US$5.5 billion is lost annually due to inadequate sanitation.
So why do we wait to solve these problems? It is a bloody shame to put so much effort in enhancing our happiness and in the meantime neglecting those who are even lacking their basic needs and can only dream of happiness.
Instead of spending time and energy on our happiness, our first and main challenge should be to ensure that all human beings, in this as well as in future generations can meet their needs: first of all the basic needs like food, water, shelter, sanitation, education, renewable energy supply, decent income etc.
I suggest that from now on, we forget the Triple A ratings and focus on the Triple H ratings for all people: Health, Harmony and Happiness. In that order. Or Harmony, Health and Happiness, should you prefer so.
Realising good health and harmony will enormously contribute to happiness for all of us. Happiness doesn’t need special attention. It is a gift as soon as we have achieved Health and Harmony for all.
Now you could argue: ‘That is all very well, but it will ruin our planet. It will mean more consumption, more production, more pollution, more depletion of resources.’ Sure, it will lead to more production and consumption. But it doesn’t necessarily mean more pollution and more depletion of resources. We can very well live within the limits of our one and only planet. To be able to do so requires only one thing: The Will To Do So.
Geurt van de Kerk
Sustainable Society Foundation