Economics and the happiness index

Economics and the happiness index

I hope you enjoy this article by Rory Ryan from the Times Gazette.

Leave it to the good-for-nothing economists.

This week they are introducing yet another statistical index in order to measure how we’re doing.

The Times of India reports that alphabet soup acronyms like GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and GNP (Gross National Product) are about as in style as a Herb Tarlek leisure suit.

OK. The Times didn’t exactly report it that way. But the simile is close enough.

Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and other economists have come up with a plan to measure individual happiness.

The Times reports “This is the first time some of the world’s most respected economists as well as leading figures from the World Bank, United Nations and World Health Organization are seriously trying to introduce a new measure of assessing poverty – in terms of happiness.

“In layman’s terms, this would mean taking into account the ‘good fortune’ of the impoverished

in the Third World. Thus, if dirt-poor people in the developing world display a general sense of well-being, international surveys would henceforth record their ‘wealth’ of happiness alongside their material poverty.”

In other words, at least they’ve encountered the Third World experience. How cool is that? It’s more than most of us can say, isn’t it?

For once, though, the economists might be on to something worthwhile. Lord knows, their predictions of the past 50 years have been wrong more often than not.

Economists have been warning of another Great Depression since, well, since the last one. Three or four generations later, we live in the greatest economy in the history of the world.

Of course, we’re not as happy as the Third Worlders, the economists tell us.

Happiness, after all, is a lot like beauty: It’s in the eye of the beholder. Think about the happiest

people you’ve ever known and ask yourself: What do they have to be happy about? It’s probably not money. Or a big house. Or a fat new SUV. Although those are all good things. (Any one of ’em would make me grin like a boxful of Cheshire cats.)

No. Happiness isn’t quite that easy to measure. Look at Flora Lopez and Maria Alcala (who may

or may not be related to former Cincinnati Reds pitcher Santo Alcala).

Flora and Maria are a combined 202 years old. That’s 101 years for each of these very happy ladies from Cuba.

Silvia Ayuso writes about Flora and Maria in The Kuwait Times.

“(They shared) what they regard as the secret to becoming a centenarian. Pure and simple, it’s happiness,” Ayuso wrote this week. “You have to laugh, you need a lot of laughs,” said a smiling Alcala. “I have always been very cheerful, when I was young, I used to dance and sing a lot.

“Alcala and Lopez were kicking up a storm at the Fifth International Congress of Satisfactory Longevity that ended last Friday in Havana,” Ayuso said.

Ayuso quotes Dr. Eugenio Selman-Husein, president of the 120-years-old Club, a Cuban association dedicated to studying longevity, who says Flora and Maria Cubans have found the secret key to a long life. “Joy and happiness are the potion for eternal youth. The philosophy of this club is that it is possible to become 120 years old without the need to make a great effort or sacrifices.”

The doctor also said this: ‘stress is one of the worst illnesses of the world.”

Given that I’ve enjoyed causing a good deal of stress on everyone from my sixth-grade teacher to the high school principal, I’m sorry to learn that stress is such a big deal. But if being a carrier of stress for others brings joy and happiness to me, well, what’s a fella to do?

I have a friend at work who tells me every once in a while, especially on one of those high-stress days, to ‘smile, dammit.”

That always makes me laugh. And smile.

Looking back at people in my own life who were more happy than sad, I honestly do not think material possessions entered into their day-to-day demeanor. I once had a second cousin, thrice removed, who couldn’t find two nickels to rub together. And if he did, they’d turn out to be wooden nickels and burn up in his hands. But he was the happiest-go-luckiest SOB I ever saw.

One day he’d have a pocketful of 50s (back when 50-dollar bills would buy more than half a tank of gasoline). A card game and a day later, he’d be broke, but just as happy.

By the same token, I’ve known people who’d be depressed at having to pay taxes after winning a $20 million lottery ticket. “Yeah, I won $20 million on a lottery ticket. But the state and federal taxes are gonna kill me. I’m only gonna end up with maybe $11 million.”

With that kind of attitude, just give me the ticket. I’ll be happy. I’ll smile. I’ll outgrin a box and a half of Cheshire cats, thank you very much. I’ll laugh 11 million different ways en route to Key West.

Happy is, as happy does.

One thing that concerns me, though, about the two news stories on happiness. Both of them came from foreign newspapers. Can’t the U.S. media give us some happy news every once in a while?

Rory Ryan is publisher and editor of The Times-Gazette.