One outcome that
the survey clearly showed was that there was a strong
correlation between the stage of development and happiness as
the people perceived it - there was a preponderance of developed
countries in the top 50 list Scandinavian countries took the top
three spots, with Denmark the happiest followed by Finland and
Norway at second and third and Sweden at seventh place.
That sort of
validates my own belief that Scandinavian countries are the most
advanced in the world with a right balance between work and
leisure and a healthy respect for individual freedom.
Mighty US, the
world's largest economy, languished at 11th place, just above
Costa Rica at 12th whose position is a bit difficult to explain,
as is Israel's at 14, a country which has been in a constant
state of war and siege for over 60 years.
The other countries
in the top 10 were the Netherlands (4), Canada (5), Switzerland
(6), New Zealand (8), Australia (9) and Ireland (10).
Despite some of'
the anomalies and outliers, it is still possible to make some
generalizations about what will make people happier, with a
little bit of help from Abraham Maslow's famous hierarchy of
needs that he first espoused in 1943.
Maslow split up
needs into five levels, starting with the lowest physiological
level and going up to security, social, esteem and
self-actualization needs in that order. Each has to be satisfied
before the others have a chance of being achieved.
physiological level, we are talking about survival - food,
water, shelter, sleep, and some even include basic needs such as
Security needs move
a step up to include steady employment, insurance,
safety while social needs cover belonging, love and affection.
Esteem refers to
things that relate to self-esteem, personal worth, social
recognition and achievements, while self-actualization refers to
the accomplishment of personal goals and fulfilling individual
Based on these,
here are 10 things which Malaysia could be doing to make us all
happier, a mix of the basic and eclectic.
1. Provide adequate
food and water.
Large sections of
the public go without access to tap water and good food
In some areas, we
may need to 'redress this by supplying adequate nutrition in
some schools. But let this not again become yet another
scandal-plagued operation with poor food being supplied at
exorbitant prices through a lousy contract (see 6 later).
2. Give shelter.
Any good government must ensure the provision of decent housing
at reasonable and affordable prices to its people or risk
incurring their wrath.
3. Move towards
higher income. To ensure basics are met and that people can buy
food and shelter, you need higher income through higher
productivity, and eschew cheap labor policies.
Minimum wages are a
step in the right direction and this should be followed by
curtailment of the use of cheap imported labor.
healthcare. Sure, private healthcare has increased by leaps and
bounds but how much has public healthcare improved? There is a
need to ensure that everyone continues to have access to good
healthcare either for free or at affordable prices.
5. Put in a social
safety net This covers a minimum wage and healthcare but must
also include adequate welfare benefits for those who really need
them One simple way is to progressively increase the retirement
age to 65, or simply do away with it as in some countries so
that everyone's productive life will be extended.
6. Cut corruption.
The curse that afflicts the Third World is corruption where the
elite siphons away billions in funds in all currencies, comes up
with unnecessary projects awarded to cronies and in the process
stops the overall development of the country.
None of the
happiest 10 countries have a corruption problem - in fact, they
tend to be among the least corrupt
education. The right education provides the means to improve
productivity, enables people to become employed, produces
thinking human beings, increases self-esteem, and enables
individuals to realize their personal goals.
8. Freedom of
expression, action (when it harms no one else), media, assembly
Freedom is an
essential component of happiness. How can you be happy if you
are oppressed and live in constant fear that you may be harassed
because your beliefs are different if still peaceful?
9. Respect for
individual rights and self-determination. This is closely
related to the previous point but goes a bit further than that.
It means putting the individual above the state. The state
exists for the individual, not the other way around.
Kennedy by paraphrasing him, "ask what the country can do for
you" to hold the government accountable.
Let me put it this
way - the country exists so that individuals benefit, the
country is made up of individuals, the country does not live but
the individuals in it do individuals make the country. I hope
that's clear enough.
10. Put it all
together. We should always have the big picture in mind when we
do things. Economic growth by itself is of no consequence but
for the benefit it brings to individuals in terms of better
It's good to choose
those activities which bring the greatest income with the least
amount of damage to the individual and his environment After
all, isn't the purpose of life to live? And would we not be
happier if we lived well?