When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Sources

Latin America's Misplaced Obsession In Measuring 'Happiness'

The Colombian government's fondness for 'happiness' polls may be an attempt ot distract people from poor basic services that are a public responsibility.

Latin America's Misplaced Obsession In Measuring 'Happiness'
Lina Martínez

BOGOTÁReports on "happiness' in Latin American countries are increasingly frequent, published so often by now that they've lost any novelty value. More to the point, the public reaction tends to be a collective puzzlement as to where all this happiness is coming from.

In 2015, the Colombian government published the results of its first poll on "life satisfaction." In 2017 it measured the indices again and concluded as it had in 2015, that Colombians are highly satisfied with their lives (about 8.5 on a scale of 0 to 10). They were indeed more satisfied than citizens of countries with better living conditions and less crime and corruption. Even Scandinavian countries do not boast such levels of life satisfaction.

We can identify four general criticisms to this kind of official "good news:" distrust, insignificance, wastefulness, and ignorance.

The first concerns the mechanisms the government may be using to blur the country's reality. There are reports of public manipulation of data to ensure distraction from the various conflicts inside the country, which it wanted to conceal. Or that it was not possible for people in Colombia to be so happy given its socio-economic conditions. This level of criticism belongs to countries with great amounts of skepticism and distrust toward the government.

The second problematic category was to do with definitions. The government's measurements used standard methodologies validated worldwide and especially by OECD countries, to gauge life satisfaction. That signifies the assessment individuals have of their lives. It is not an easy concept to communicate and its many nuances might easily confuse its meaning. One term freely and interchangeably used to denote life satisfaction is "happiness." But life satisfaction and happiness are not the same. Being satisfied with life is wider in scope than happiness, referring to achievements, failures and their significance to you over a long period. Happiness is a state of being or mind and changes constantly, even if it is easier to talk about happiness, which fits nicely into a front-page headline.

Photo: Juancho Torres/ZUMA

The third issue was on the use of public funds to study "happiness' in the population. Some have called out such choices in a country facing other difficulties and needing to make priorities in spending. It became one more example of ordinary people failing to understand the administration's workings and processes. What would it have cost at the end of the day, to include some extra questions on life satisfaction in a multi-purpose survey, as statistical polls sometimes do, making happiness one of the areas for government evaluation? Certainly, it would cost less than an entire poll devoted to gauging happiness levels.

People's quality of life is very much affected by government decisions.

But the real criticism of the polls was on their purpose and the government's motive for placing them on the public agenda. Changing their meaning from life satisfaction to happiness, effectively trivialized the process. The pursuit of happiness is not per se a government objective, unlike improving everyday living standards that are closely tied to life satisfaction. Including data on life satisfaction (relating to work or wages for example) in polls would show a government's readiness to adopt a broader view of development, beyond its classical economic indices. One reasoning behind life satisfaction studies is that ultimately, traditional development policies do not yield information on more subjective dimensions that remain relevant to satisfaction with life.

People's quality of life is very much affected by government decisions and spending priorities. Traffic, public transport shortages for commuters, crime and the state of healthcare are variables with a direct and significant impact on life satisfaction. And all have to do with government.

The results of such nationwide polls in Colombia are often reflected in similar polls at a local level. In Cali, the country's third biggest city, life satisfaction is about the same as nationwide levels. CaliBRANDO, the polling system used in Cali, shows that city residents' satisfaction is due to the quality of their effective relations, state of health and optimism over the future, but also government decisions.

The process of measuring subjective indices has considerable room for improvement, and the first step here is to understand one's objectives in undertaking such polls. I would invite governments to think twice before measuring life satisfaction indices and describing them erroneously as happiness. That, remember, is a mental state that can change with a simple headache.

You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Economy

Europe's Winter Energy Crisis Has Already Begun

in the face of Russia's stranglehold over supplies, the European Commission has proposed support packages and price caps. But across Europe, fears about the cost of living are spreading – and with it, doubts about support for Ukraine.

Protesters on Thursday in the German state of Thuringia carried Russian flags and signs: 'First our country! Life must be affordable.'

Martin Schutt/dpa via ZUMA
Stefanie Bolzen, Philipp Fritz, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister, Mandoline Rutkowski, Stefan Schocher, Claus, Christian Malzahn and Nikolaus Doll

-Analysis-

In her State of the Union address on September 14, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, issued an urgent appeal for solidarity between EU member states in tackling the energy crisis, and towards Ukraine. Von der Leyen need only look out her window to see that tensions are growing in capital cities across Europe due to the sharp rise in energy prices.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

Sign up to our free daily newsletter.

In the Czech Republic, people are already taking to the streets, while opposition politicians elsewhere are looking to score points — and some countries' support for Ukraine may start to buckle.

With winter approaching, Europe is facing a true test of both its mettle, and imagination.

Keep reading...Show less

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in
Writing contest - My pandemic story
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS

Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

Watch VideoShow less
MOST READ