I’m a generally happy person, always have been I suppose. But over the last couple of weeks I’ve started thinking more about happiness: what it is, where it comes from, and how we can achieve it. Which is an interesting thing to be thinking about in a Buddhist country where the local belief system teaches us not to focus on emotions, which are fleeting and ever-changing, but to concentrate instead on clearing our minds of any and all desires, hopes, and fears. Only then will we know true peace.
These thoughts were kickstarted by an article sent to me by my godmother, illustrating the findings of the World Happiness Report 2016. You didn’t read it? Here’s a summary of what is found to make people and countries happy:
- Social support so that you have friends and family to count on in times of trouble
- Freedom to choose what you do in life
- Generosity and how much people donate to charity
- Absence of corruption in business and government
- Healthy life expectancy
The reason this article was sent to me was because of the third point. You see, supporting SKOPE by clicking on our Crowdfunder page now and donating some money will make you happy … Sorry, I digress. But yes, giving to charity makes people happy so I like to think that a significant part of why I’m happy out here in Cambodia is because I work for a charity I truly believe to be making a difference. I also have an amazing group of friends, both in Cambodia, the UK, and now around the world (expats move a lot). Thanks to Skype, Whats App and Facebook the distance hardly matters and I know I can rely on them when things get tough. As for choosing what I want to do in life? I’d say I was doing exactly what I want to do right now with no thought about how my choice will affect anyone but me. And I have the freedom to be selfish like this because of my abundance of point number one. But what about the last three points?
Cambodia ranked 140th out of 157 countries for the World Happiness Rankings 2013-15. Obviously it’s impossible to know exactly why Cambodians scored so poorly but let’s take a look at points 4, 5, and 6 in relation to this country I currently call home.
Corruption. Every year Transparency International publishes corruption indexes and every year there is some politician in Cambodia complaining that the figures are bias and incorrect. In 2013, Cambodian came 160th out of 177 countries. The UK came 14th. In 2014, Cambodia came 156th out of 175 countries. The UK came 14th again. In 2015, Cambodia came 150th out of 168 countries. The UK came 10th. Cambodia is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Millions of dollars of aid flood into the country every year and significant portions of that money is unaccounted for. Well, unless you happen to drive past the Independence Monument and glance at the house on the corner of Norodom Boulevard and Sihanouk Boulevard. I’ll say no more here in case I’m deported but those of you who know Phnom Penh will know exactly whose house I’m talking about.
The current Gross Domestic Product of Cambodia is $16.78 billion. The population is 15.33 million. Imagine this product was divided fairly: each Cambodian would receive $1094.59 per annum. The current GDP of the UK is $2.989 trillion. The population is 64.51 million. If this product was divided fairly, each Brit would receive $46,333.90. And people say money can’t buy happiness.
Finally let’s take a look at the average life expectancy. Cambodia’s health care system is … limited. The average life expectancy in Cambodia is 71 years. In Vietnam it’s 75 and in Thailand it’s 74. And the UK races ahead with 81 years. Well it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out you’re more likely to be happy if you’re not anticipating your life coming to an end earlier than modern science should allow.
So in conclusion, if your country’s government is full of greedy, selfish, soulless men (yes, it is mostly men), grasping desperately to their power and killing (literally) potential political rivals, if you’re a policeman getting paid $70 per month or a salt-fields worker paid just a couple of dollars per day, and if you’re quite likely to meet an untimely end when you fall sick with a curable illness but don’t have the money to pay your poorly trained local doctor to cure you, you’re quite likely to be unhappy.
As a side note, when the word ‘happy’ first entered the English language towards the end of the 14th century, it meant lucky. Perhaps it still does today: from the facts and figures above and if we want to make a sweeping generalisation we are happy if we are lucky enough to be born in the right country. I’d describe myself as a happy-go-lucky person but would that be the case if I had been born in Cambodia? I’d like to think so: I love this country! But the figures suggest otherwise.
But I don’t want this to be a depressive blog entry, so I’m going to end with some comments from my Grade 5 class. For their journal activity this week, I asked them: “What makes you happy?” Their simple answers will warm your hearts.
- I was happy when I went to see a fox at the zoo – David
- I am happy when I am watching Cartoon Network – Mony
- I was happy when I got a new helmet because I don’t want my head to be broken – Sak
- I am happy when I have a lot of friends who like to play with me because they are very funny – Sasda
- I am happy when I don’t have spellings – Piseth
- I am happy when Teacher Ruth says my point is good – Sokheng
- I am happy when I am eating pizza and listening to music – Bush
- I am happy when I am reading my storybook – Sovannary
- I am happy when I have lots of noodles to eat – Davy
Sometimes, you just need to remember that children make up about 27 per cent of the world’s population and those in Cambodia have some of the brightest smiles.
Oh and in case you’re interested the UK came 23rd out of 157 countries in the world happiness rankings 2013-15.
To read more about the reports and articles mentioned above, click on these links.