How much is enough to be happy? (*)

It’s 2016 and we can all breathe a sigh of relief that we’re edging ever closer to the eagerly awaited 2030, a year in which, according to the predictions Keynes made in 1930, technological advances will empower us to live with far more free time, and virtually no need to work, and therefore… we’ll all be much happier. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we’re on track for this with our current economic development model. A male-dominated model geared towards productivity and predatory, accumulative action.

There are many critical voices already in the mix, and we agree with the thesis and reflections proposed by Robert Skidelsky, Professor of Political Economy at the University of Warwick, and Edward Skidelsky, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Exeter, in their book “How Much is Enough?” In it, they raise the fundamental question of how much money it takes to live well, and crucially, whether the main purpose of the human race should be the sole business of making money. While the authors recognize the contributions of the current capitalist system, which has facilitated unparalleled progress in the creation of wealth, they are critical of the incapability of said system to provide a more civilized use of the riches is generates. What’s more, they defend a thesis that many of us share these days, regarding evidence that the crisis has revealed in relation to the defects of the existing model. First and foremost, the moral defects endorsed by the division of our society between the mega rich and the ultra poor. Secondly, the economic defects demonstrated by the fragility of an instable financial system. Defects to which, we should add the false idea of “growth” upon which the current system rests.

There is a shared consensus that we’re dealing with a concept that has proven itself to be a mistake, especially if we take into account its results: It hasn’t made us happy, and moreover, we’ve got an environmental catastrophe on our hands. So, it seems utterly senseless to continue defending this model. A model based on a dynamic of accumulation and of the constant creation of newness, which leads to an unstoppable spiral in which we always want and desire something more. And this is terminally connected to a dualistic ideal of happiness/growth that has also proven to be a whopping great error.

Growth and Happiness

Several initiatives have revealed the fact that economic growth, quantatively expressed through GDP, has no correlation with the level of happiness in any given country. As this evidence has come to light over the years, various investigations and indexes have been developed to try and measure the correlations between wealth and happiness levels. One such index, published since 2012, is the World Happiness Report. Its studies are produced by a group of experts from the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN). When it comes to taking measurements, they consider the Gross Domestic Product of each country, as well as the life expectancy and life quality of its citizens. It also measures aspects like the freedom citizens feel to take decisions, their income levels and the support provided by public institutions, According to data from 2014[1], Spain ranks 36th, a far stretch from Switzerland, the country that tops the list. In the top spots, we also find Nordic countries like Iceland, Denmark and Norway. Oddly enough, the study reveals that industrialized countries fall most in the ranking, while Latin American countries are making their way up.

In my opinion, what stands out is the fact that this study demonstrates the need to measure human development beyond purely economic indicators. It proves that there’s a major crack in our current model, which is based on the notion of exclusively relating happiness with wealth. In this sense, we should turn our attention to the projects connected to development and ethics, conducted by the Indian economist And Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen, in collaboration with the American philosopher Martha Nussbaum. Thanks to their endeavours, the concept of quality of life has shifted towards wellbeing, incorporating factors that go beyond purely economic components. In fact, Amartya Sen was one of the inspirations for the Human Development Index (HDI), which encompasses – in addition to the income of a country’s population – a series of other valid criteria, such as education, health, security, decentralization and gender discrimination.

Towards more feminine progress

We agree with Amartya Sen, who asserts that the goal of development isn’t just improvement in material matters, but also integrates life expectancy and culture. It embraces elements, which are – in our view – highly in synch with culture and feminine modus operandi, like empathy and consideration towards others. Sen sows the seeds of the possibility that wellbeing could be evaluated in terms of a person’s state of being (their own happiness) or even from the perspective of the contribution this person can make to the rest of society. Therefore, a subject’s wellbeing can also be considered “concern for others” because doing good empowers a person to feel happy or fulfilled.

So therefore, according to Sen’s approach, perhaps its time to revive concepts like those of common good and others’ wellbeing, which we believe are much more feminine and caring. Something that’s deeply connected to a more feminine way of being, which sadly, our male-dominated societal model has driven us to forget. I believe that restoring the general attributes of the feminine model could provide us with a new and better way of doing things, a sensitivity where the spirit of collaboration overrides the pride in material possessions and competitive male aggressiveness that have proven utterly insufficient in bringing us happiness.


(*) This post was published in Spanish last December 2015


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