Guest blogger Stuart Warren debates whether there is one or not

I always have to smile when I see the results of so called ‘Happiness Surveys’. How happy are you on
a scale of 1 – 10? How does that compare to last year? Stupid questions but the results are not quite
as straight forward as you might think and in some respects paradoxical.

Often the most dissatisfied people are those from the more wealthy places, and the more happy
ones from poorer countries.

I remember reading such a survey of the Hong Kong Chinese in 1997 hardly anyone interviewed had
a positive word to say despite the fact that at that time they were on average about 25 times richer
than the mainlanders and probably at the time approaching the UK wealth levels with no real sign of
any decrease in their own standard of living. Also a good proportion of the mainlanders would have
sold body parts just for the chance of joining the legions of the discontented.

The truism is that you can’t miss something you’ve never had. Also the higher you fly the harder you

On another level, if the achievement of fantastic riches is only dreamed of, there’s no place for
feeling discontented since there’s no real frustration at not having achieved, only a resignation of
the position you are in.

Conversely if you have everything and subsequently lose it, then there are real grounds for
dissatisfaction even if the loss is outside your control and especially if you have worked hard for
what you have achieved.

The Islam faith system is not as supportive of naked wealth accumulation as most western religions,
wealth being seen as a gift from God rather than a secular achievement. Its probably no coincidence
therefore that most Islamic states tend to have a lower per capita GDP. On the same basis though
there is a degree of insulation from the down trend also. This basis of belief to a great extent
disconnects personal contentment from wealth with the result that Muslims are much more likely to
be satisfied with their lot.

On a similar basis its also a fact that there is a positive correlation between strength of any religious
belief and happiness / contentment.

Notwithstanding religion though, the reason for contentment can be finessed further……people are
more likely to be happy if there is an expectation of an improving living standard and are likely to be
unhappy or at least less happy, if there is an expectation of a falling living standard.

I don’t have any analysis to prove it but I would also suggest that part of the dissatisfaction is not
about actual wealth levels but about relative wealth, the Hong Kong example above supports this. Is
it also true that irrespective of personal circumstances ones discontentment might be tempered if
many others are doing even more badly? ie consolation.

None of this is intended to make light of the scale or extent of the problem to individuals. Obviously
for less happy read, concerned, preoccupied, worried, scared, etc. The massed ‘unhappy’ are much
more likely to be carrying heavy commitments and existing debt, frustrated, disenfranchised, already
jobless, poor, unable to float financially having already exhausted the available options to reverse
their situation, etc etc.

That’s why at the present time there is such a huge potential problem in many many places.
Economics are one thing but sentiment is what really drives peoples actions.