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Does This Colombian City Prove You Can Be Poor And Happy?

Latin America is starting to measure happiness or "well-being" levels to gauge social trends and set public policy. Surprising results in Cali, Colombia.

In Cali, the "happiest city in Colombia"
In Cali, the "happiest city in Colombia"
Lina Martinez

CALI — Gauging satisfaction among citizens has become a key factor in formulating public policy. It involves countless factors that all affect quality of life, but in broad terms such surveys tell us how people feel about their lives and perceive their immediate future.

"Subjective well-being," or SWB, as the survey jargon calls it, includes a range of qualitative and quantitative data that become relevant when considering how macroeconomic data fail to inform governments about issues of concern to the citizenry. Per-capita gross domestic product or infant mortality rates, for example, are useful measures, but they offer few clues about whether, and how much, people are satisfied with government services.
Obviously, life satisfaction is also based on non-government factors, such as family relationships and life within a couple. Other factors concern the public sphere and relate to policymaking, like whether people feel safe on the streets or whether health care is accessible, affordable and effective.
European states have been measuring SWB since 2011. An example of this is the Better Life Index in OECD countries, probably the largest-scale continuous measurement of life satisfaction with relevance to policymaking. The same practice is just starting in Latin America. Public opinion surveys such as Latinobarómetro and similar polls are increasingly including questions about how people feel about their lives, and these results are beginning to be included in official statistics in places like Colombia.
In the Colombian city of Cali — known for salsa, a steamy climate and stubborn crime rates — authorities have been implementing the CaliBRANDO surveys developed by Cali's ICESI university. The name plays on the ideas of "calibrating" and "branding." The first poll found that Cali residents were reasonably satisfied with their lives, on average scoring 8.3 out of a possible 10 points. This was the highest in Colombia and well above the average of 6.6 points reported for European states.

Yet this average hides factors that are hugely relevant to creating public policies. For example, the results show that people of ethnic minorities are less satisfied, which is at least an indicator of discrimination. Women on average declare themselves to be more satisfied with their lives, but they are paid less money or are far more affected than men by unemployment or the inability to save money. People without children say they are more satisfied than those with children, as do those who have a good education, compared to those have not.

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The Trauma Of War, A Poisoned Guide For Parenting

As a psychoanalyst, Wolfgang Schmidbauer has researched the psychological effects of war on children — and in the process, also examined his own post-War childhood in Germany. In this article, he warns that parents tend to use their experiences of suffering as a method of education, with serious consequences.

Parents traumatized by war make their own experiences of suffering a core principle of education.

Wolfgang Schmidbauer*

As a young married civilian, British poet Robert Graves describes his mental state after World War I. "Shells used to come bursting on my bed at midnight, even though Nancy shared it with me," he wrote in Goodbye to All That, his wartime biography. "Strangers in daytime would assume the faces of friends who had been killed."

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