Not by bread alone

The Economic Times
July 31, 2004


Adam Smith may not have got it exactly right when he observed in The
Wealth of Nations that “No society surely can be flourishing and
happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and

Flying against the face of that argument is the conclusion of a World
Values Survey conducted in 65 nations from 1999-01 by social
scientists and first reported by the British magazine New Scientist.

The survey indicated that poverty-stricken Nigeria had the world’s
highest percentage of happy people. When Cervantes stated in the 16th
century that “There are but two families in the world, the haves and
the have-nots”, he may never have anticipated that the 21st century
have-nots would have it in terms of happiness! Nigeria was followed
by Mexico, Venezuela, El Salvador and Puerto Rico, in that order.

At the bottom was Romania, just below Armenia and Russia. India was
ranked 21, not too bad for a nation which used to believe that
everything was maya!

The country whose Declaration of Independence describes as sacrosanct
“life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” did not figure in the
top ten, despite being the unrivalled economic and military

The US was ranked 16th. The 19th century American writer Nathaniel
Hawthorne had enough wisdom to observe that “Happiness in this world,
when it comes, comes incidentally. Make it the object of pursuit and
it leads us to a wild goose chase.”

Richard Layard of the Centre for Economic Performance of the London
School of Economics may have put his finger on it when he was
recently quoted in Newsweek as stating that satisfying relationships
had a greater bearing on happiness than income.

What better way of forging such relationships than in nations like
Nigeria where community trust has helped people survive hard times?
Conversely, a single-minded pursuit of individual happiness could end
up in what the American writer Norman Mailer once called “an
air-conditioned nightmare.”