Thursday, January 15, 2009

1/9/2009 11:47:00 AM
400 years on, are we happy yet?

We’ve found a way to thrive, but in many areas of life we also face the danger of self-destruction.

Here's wishing you a very happy 400th birthday, Bermuda.

But what is it, exactly, that makes Bermuda happy?

After 400 years of toil and strife, success and triumph, wealth and rewards, I don't think we've figured out.

We licked the Spanish, ended slavery and made a whole heap of money.

So why aren't we happy?

We're a British colony that doesn't want to be British and doesn't want to be independent either.

We complain about the English, grumble about the Americans, scorn the Canadians, sneer at the West Indians, look down at the Asians, don't trust black people and don't trust white people either.

We boast that Bermuda is another world, but spend every penny we earn trying to build mini-skyscrapers and pyramid-shaped hotels and slick glass restaurants that make you think you are absolutely anywhere in the world except for where you really are.

After 400 years, it's probably less clear than ever what exactly it means to be a Bermudian, what a Bermudian looks like, what a Bermudian eats, how a Bermudian speaks, and what kind of structure a Bermudian lives and works in.

Some of it's just the way of the modern world. People fly around in jets, surf the net, work for international companies, and get educated in all kinds of different countries where they meet and marry all kinds of different people from even more different countries.

Then they come back to Bermuda and try to make as much money as they can.

One thing we can say for certain is this: If we'd spent as much time pursuing happiness over the last 400 years, as we'd spent pursuing money, we'd be... well, a lot happier.

Scientists have been studying happiness more and more and, when you look at their conclusions, it's not hard to see a lot of ways where Bermuda has gone wrong over the last 400 years.

The happiest people

USAToday summarized the research quite neatly:

"The happiest people surround themselves with family and friends, don't care about keeping up with the Joneses next door, lose themselves in daily activities and, most important, forgive easily."

The International Institute of Management has suggested seven criteria for measuring something far more important than our Gross National Product - our Gross National Happiness.

Economic Wellness: Our economy is thriving, compared to most places. But wealth gaps (white vs black, local vs expat) create grievances. Prices are painfully high for ordinary working people... while home prices are debilitating. A lot of people move to North America just to make ends meet.

Environmental Wellness: We're a beautiful island, slowly destroying itself. Planning regulations are routinely ignored or by-passed, roads are over-crowded, litter is abundant, and high population leaves people living cheek-by-jowl. Whatever happened to sustainable development?

Physical Wellness: We're pretty healthy...except for rampant diabetes and obesity (most adults are overweight) not to mention traffic injuries and traffic fatalities.

Mental Wellness: Judge for yourself.

Workplace Wellness: There's pretty much full employment - but a pretty large segment of the workforce doesn't feel it's getting a fair shake - witness the concerns about foreigners getting the best jobs. Two or three weeks of standard vacation that most private-sector workers receive is one of the stingiest in the world.

Social Wellness: Discrimination, safety, divorce rates, complaints of domestic conflicts and crime rates... you know we aren't happy in this department. And don't forget the huge social chasms created by racial separation, public vs private education, local vs international business wealth and culture, and the tears start to flow.

Political Wellness: The good news isn't we aren't killing ourselves, we aren't at war, and our governments are elected democratically. But much of the community is convinced that corruption is a serious problem, divisiveness and animosity between political parties runs high, and there is little individual involvement or access to information.

So happy 400th, Bermuda. We've learned how to thrive, but are we really having fun yet?

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