Will the longest plea be heard?
Life after going finish

Why are all these people so happy?

Brenda Samson and Lilly Be'Soer of Voice for Change (Gemma Carr)
Brenda Samson and Lilly Be'Soer of Voice for Change (Gemma Carr)

PHIL FITZPATRICK

TUMBY BAY - One of the most striking things about Papua New Guinea is the profusion of happiness and laughter.

I noticed this when I first went to the then Australian colony in 1967 and the picture hasn’t diminished over the years.

Whenever I arrive at Jackson’s Airport in Port Moresby I am greeted by happy, smiling faces.

Given what the world’s media say about the dire state of PNG, a new chum might conclude that they’ve arrived amongst a population of grinning fools who don’t appreciate reality.

That momentary thought quickly vanishes when it becomes apparent that all of those smiling faces also exhibit a keen intellect.

So why are these people so happy if things are so bad? Poverty is rife, inequality is pronounced and education and health services are poor.

It doesn’t make sense. They should all be miserable.

To find an answer to this quandary is not complicated. The many studies into the nature of happiness all come up with the same conclusion.

Money doesn’t buy happiness.

Even though this statement seems to be a well-worn cliché, there is good evidence to support it.

Once most people have obtained sufficient resources to live a comfortable life, the positive effects of extra resources on happiness diminish.

Those resources need not be financial. A block of land to grow food and a place to live can also provide comfort and happiness.

This is known as the Easterlin Paradox, which states, simply, that over time happiness does not trend upward as income continues to grow.

According to the editors of the latest World Happiness Report social context is more important than wealth.

That is, marriage, family, friends, neighbours, working relationships, community well-being and mutual trust beats money every time.

Furthermore, the acquisition of money tends to lead to social isolation. Rich people get so tied up with their pursuit of wealth that they abandon friends and relatives and withdraw from the community around them.

Because the “single most reliable predictor of happiness is feeling embedded in a community” these people lose a major reason to be happy.

Capitalism, with its emphasis on individuality, doesn’t recognise this truth.

Extreme wealth actually works against our evolutionary impulse to band together in a community.

Research shows that this is not only isolating, it also has a huge cost on mental health.

It’s not the happy, smiling people at Jackson’s Airport who are nuts but the miserable individuals hiding in high rise towers in the CBD.

The World Happiness Report for 2019 makes for interesting reading. The report surveys global happiness by ranking 156 countries in terms of how happy their citizens say they are.

The top seven happiest countries are all in and around northern Europe. Finland is on top followed by Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Netherlands, Switzerland and Sweden.

New Zealand is next and Australia comes in at number eleven.

Curiously, the small Himalayan nation of Bhutan, which adopted into its constitution an index of Gross National Happiness to measure the collective happiness and well-being of its population, came in at 95th.

What this probably means is that while money can’t buy happiness neither can it be gained by making laws. You can’t legislate for happiness no matter how hard you try.

Unfortunately, Papua New Guinea doesn’t get mentioned in the report. Neither does any other Pacific nation.

It would be interesting to see where they would land if a survey was extended to the region.

If my observations are correct they would probably be up there with the leaders.

Comments

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Philip Kai Morre

When you see a smiling face of another human being you will know that he or she is happy, when you search deeper he or she experience inner beauty which is the highest form good. Good in it self are tied to evaluation of beauty, happiness and truth leading into authentic self, morality and norms of justice and rightness. Aristotle the Greed philosopher, defined internal happiness and beauty as different from external beauty and happiness. Men were originally created good in the highest form, (means to an end) but corrupted in the process.
Experiencing violence and living in hostile environment gives us no hope of happiness, beauty and love. Human beings are aggressive beings, much more aggressive than animals. However, we have this natural inclination or conscience or inner voice that remind us to avoid evil and do good. God's law was written in our hearts and we have this urge to be good and our final designation is happiness, We always have visions and insights always think of what sort of happiness we will experience without problems.. We experience this meiotic process of inner strength and beauty after going through emotional and physical sufferings. Once we overcome this dreadful situations we live for another day and we find meaning in lift as Victor Frankl have mentioned.

Elizabeth Cox

It's good to know the story behind the smiles. The photo shows Brenda Samson and Lilly Be'Soer, two survivors of domestic violence - heroes who turned their pain into change.

They are co-founders of Voice for change, largely a women's rights local NGO in the 'new' province of Jiwaka. They are two extremely tenacious and hardworking Human Rights Defenders.

They have struggled and sacrificed for almost 20 years to build an organisation that has an agriculture/economic empowerment base, but focuses on building equality, development and peace - an end to all forms of violence - in the wider community - including Violence against women and children, sorcery related violence and political, economic and so called tribal conflicts that can devastate large communities and undermine development.

Lilly and Brenda, started with a round house and used their own resources until, after a decade, the UN and donors noticed them. But still they do so much with relatively little external resources. They now have a built residential training campus - all locally designed and built and part-funded. Tremendous achievement.

It meets the needs the expanding needs of their organisation- which now works with local ward members, village peace committees and conflict mediators, police and other law and justice personnel and has a vast network of trained peace, justice and community development workers.

Their venue is rented out for meetings, conferences and training. It's a magnificent, 'bottom-up' , women led model of development that has made a huge difference for the first decade of development in Jiwaka.

They sweat, they stress, they organise and they never give up. They have occasional opportunities or rest, refection, respite, networking and learning, when they can rightfully smile and be happy at all they have achieved, and always in full appreciation of friends, colleagues and partners who have helped the along the way.

But the most credit should go to the local women leaders and they need to be honoured for the groundbreaking and inspirational work that they have done.

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