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BIO Magazine - Well-being study attracts a great deal of interest worldwide Δεκέμβριος 2015
Δεκέμβριος 2015 No38

BIO Ethics

Well-being study attracts a great deal of interest worldwide
Well-being study attracts a great deal of interest worldwide

“Are you happy?” Now, the political world is bringing in heightened attention to well-being. A committee that was established by French President Sarkozy and is being presided over and coordinated by Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen, Nobel laureates in economics, and Jean-Paul Fitoussi, a leading economist in France, report in the autumn of 2009 that stated: “Not only an objective index, but also the measurement of the subjective feeling of well-being will be the key for describing the quality of life.

After that, England started to work on the development of the English version of the well-being index under the direction of Prime Minister Cameron, and in German, Deutscher Bundestag (German Congress) organized a bipartisan investigation committee, and thus has been discussing the conversion of the economic system. Japan, almost during the same period, expressed its nation-building policy based on well-being in the New Growth Strategy decided by the Cabinet in July of 2010 saying: “Our goal is to build a ‘three goods’ country where the economy, the environment and the society can enhance each other while contributing to the well-being of people,” and the Commission on Measuring Well-being of the Cabinet Office officially announced the proposed well-being indicators based on the Japanese sense of well-being in December of 2011.

What lies behind such political attention is the accumulation of knowledge on well-being which has been studied in the fields of psychology, economics and sociology since around 1970, and gradually came to be viewed as an important subject in anthropology, political science, brain science, etc. The “paradox of happiness,” where people who are leading a wealthy life economically are not enjoying “happiness,” was the starting point of the well-being study, which has developed into an analysis on major factors that can determine the feeling of happiness.

Since the 1990’s, academic researchers have revealed the major factors that can stipulate the level of happiness, and they can be generally categorized into the following 3 areas: (1) Economic and social conditions (poverty, living environment, education, employment, etc.), (2) Physical and mental health, (3) Relationship with one’s family and community. In other words, these researches have possibly proved that economic development and income improvement are nothing more than the means to get out of poverty etc. for people, therefore, it is wrong to set economic development and income improvement as the sole national objectives.

Seen from a global viewpoint, there are a lot of people in Japan who feel that they are not happy, which is due to the historical background that Japan has accomplished economical growth during the post war period at the expense of hurting their communities and family relations. Therefore, if just leading a “happy life” in society is people’s lifelong desire, it is possible to say that the country or government should have re-evaluated the national objective and the purpose of the policy.

On the other hand, a well-being study has been originally conducted and discussed, as mentioned above, as a subject that handles the negative aspect of economical development in advanced countries, especially in the West, and the well-being study has been conducted rather limitedly in developing countries, which is partly because of the lack of social investigations and the limitation of data. (Latin countries: Graham and Felton in 2005, Uruguay: Gandelman et al. in 2012, Peru: Leonardo Becchetti et al. in 2011, South Africa: Hinks and Gruen in 2007, Thailand: Gray et al. in 2010, Philippines: Swami et al. in 2009, Bangladesh: Camfield et al. in 2009, India: Biswas-Diener and Diener in 2006, etc.) Additionally, there are quite a lot of negative opinions pertaining to the meaning of dealing with the level of happiness in developing countries, since the theory that “economic growth is correlated with the level of happiness,” which was announced in 2008 by Professor Stevenson and Assistant Professor Worfers of University of Pennsylvania, USA, has been most frequently quoted in discussions. Simply put, the idea that “money = happiness” is being accepted in developing countries.

However, in Togo in Africa, only 1% of the population feels that they are happy, but in Costa Rica in Central America, as many as 63% answer that they are happy; thus developing countries show a considerable variation in the distribution of the feeling of happiness depending on the countries. In addition, counterarguments have been made in regard to the theory of Professor Stevenson and others, which includes the statement made by Professor Easterlin of the University of Southern California and Mr. Sawangfa, a doctoral student at the same university, who state that “research on the relation between economical growth and the level of happiness based on the long-term data to the extent possible shows that economic growth is not correlated with the level of happiness in developing countries, either.

Also, for example, Professor Night of the University of Oxford and Ms. Gunatilake, who was a guest researcher at the same university, point out a noteworthy research outcome as follows: “The level of happiness is lower among inhabitants who moved from rural to urban areas than that of those who have always been living in rural areas, and in China, which has been enjoying remarkable economic growth, the increase in the level of happiness caused by income growth has not been observed, and in the background of which lies the loss of the family bond.

In such a situation, well-being has been increasingly attracting attention even in the development of strategies for developing countries. First of all, in July of 2011, the “UN resolution on happiness” was adopted by consensus being co-sponsored by 68 countries, in which Bhutan, known for its high “Gross National Happiness” and was coming under the spotlight in Japan, played a leading role.The resolution states: “The pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal and happiness is a universal objective, and an aspiration for which is the embodiment of the spirit of the Millennium Development Goals. Also, in June of 2012, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) summarized the New Development Strategy that upholds the “development of indicators to measure progress for the development” as one of its four pillars, which stipulates: “It is indispensable to develop indicators that can represent human well-being comprehensively.” In October of 2012, the OECD is going to host a world forum under the theme of “Measuring Well-being for Development and Policy Making” with the participation of thousands of persons concerned in Delhi in India, where the meaning of well-being in developing countries is going to be discussed.

As just described, with regard to the well-being study on developing countries, there are still the following unsolved questions: (1) Will the goal of economic growth basically make people in developing countries happy? (2) Can well-being in developing countries be determined by the same factors as in the West or will it be influenced by factors peculiar to developing countries or cultural differences? Further academic research needs to be conducted systematically.However, I feel the reason why Bhutan drew attention to well-being could have arisen out of a sense of crisis that the more economic growth would develop in the future, the more things such as traditional culture, family and community ties, etc. could be lost. What sort of society Bhutan will build in the future will tell us the true value of the Gross National Happiness. (Note: In a broad sense, not the “Gross National Happiness,” but the “Gross National Happiness” including immigrants etc. is needed.)

In addition, the president of Uruguay, Mujica, asked: “Is it a development and consumption model, the one reigning over the affluent societies (that developing countries should aim for)?” and then appealed: “Development cannot go against happiness” at the conference “Rio+20” in June of 2012. For people living in a developing country like Uruguay, it is getting more and more meaningful to ask what happiness means for them, and in the meantime, we are expected to have a future vision like “what kind of society and world we want to create.” Considering the fact that advanced countries that have achieved economic development are now focusing attention on well-being, it is not too much to say that “the goal of building a society like that of an advanced country will not bring about a future where you can live your life in a humane manner.

Coincidently, from September of 2012, international leaders are going to hold a discussion with the aim of setting a global goal to be reached by 2025, where Indonesia President Yudhoyono, Liberia President Sirleaf and British Prime Minister Cameron are going to serve as co-chairpersons, and the council decision is going to be reported to the Secretary General of the United Nations in the first half of 2013. From Japan, Naoto Kan, a former prime minister, is going to take part in the conference. It will be crucial to discuss the future vision of the world at the conference starting with the question of “what a happy society for people all over the will be like” removing the boundaries between advanced countries and developing countries.

How about talking about “what happiness is” together with your family or friends in concert with such an international discussion?


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