How do you measure happiness? Just asking people if they are “happy” is not much help. That will change from day to day based on immediate experience. Some people put together an index with a range of factors (air quality, number of doctors per 100,000 people, income levels, etc.), but these are their idea of what should make people happy and may miss the mark completely.
Can we find a single factor that will help us estimate happiness in a society? First, we need to know what their primary goal is in life. Making progress toward that goal is critical to happiness. Is there such a thing as a “primary goal” that can be found in societies globally?
One organization which has studied this in 146 nations is the Gallup organization, famous in the US and many other nations for their opinion polls and surveys. As an opinion survey firm with a truly global reach, they are in an excellent position to do this job professionally.
They call it their “World Poll” and its purpose is to find what we as humans agree and disagree on. They have published the results of a global poll that might help us. So what have they found? In their words,
Gallup is committed to conducting the World Poll for 100 years, but we may have already found the single most searing, clarifying, helpful, world-altering fact. If used appropriately, it may change how every leader runs his or her country. But at the very least, it needs to be considered in every policy, every law, and every social initiative…
What the whole world wants is a good job.
That is one of the single biggest discoveries Gallup has ever made. It is as simple and as straightforward an explanation of the data as we can give. If you and I were walking down the street in Khartoum, Tehran, Berlin, Lima, Los Angeles, Baghdad, Kolkata, or Istanbul, we would discover that on most days the single most dominant thought carried around in the heads of most people you and I see is, “I want a good job.” It is the new current state of mind, and it establishes our relationship with our city, our country, and the whole world around us.
Humans used to desire love, money, food, shelter, safety, and/or peace more than anything else. The last 25 years have changed us. Now we want to have a good job.
None of us will ever know exactly whether people are happy, beyond their immediate feelings, or not, but now we have a single major goal. It is logical to assume that people who feel they can attain that goal are going to be happier than people who do not feel that way. So Gallup asked a simple question, the same question, to people in 146 nations. “Thinking about the job situation in your city or area where you live today, would you say that it is now a good time or a bad time to find a job?”
You might be surprised by the results. Here are the ten nations where “a good time” was the most popular choice.
Living as I do in Panama, I am pleased to see we rank third of 146, but I am not surprised. The economy is going well here and jobs are plentiful, so finding a job is not a major obstacle. What about the self-anointed “advanced economies”. I pulled the stats for some of them and here are the results.
Interesting. Not one of them passes Uzbekistan and most are roughly half or less than half as high as Panama, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and others.
Gallup’s point is well-taken, especially in regard to the Old World of the North Atlantic nations. Those of us outside watch as people in the US and Europe chase their own tails, screaming at themselves non-stop in the process. It’s bizarre to see people do this, but they are so noisy and demanding of everyone’s attention, no one can ignore them. One thing is sure. No one thinks of them as “happy”.
The one good thing that can be said about the unholy mess is that these troubled nations are “kicking the can down the road”, as they love to repeat ad nauseam, and that means taking on more debt to maintain a standard of living that they can no longer afford, thus allowing themselves the luxury of continued purchases they can’t afford, and the result is continued business for the rest of the world. Most importantly, though, it has given many other nations outside the North Atlantic the time to forge new relationships and partnerships with each other that reduce their dependency on the Old World.
But few outside really think this situation in the Old World is healthy for the global economy. It needs to change, but that has to come internally in the troubled nations. There is nothing the rest can do about it, except look to their own best interests while waiting for the Old World to do the same.
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