In an article posted on the Internet a few years ago, the author, psychology professor Christopher Peterson, from the University of Michigan, said that US citizens “are materially so much better off than we were 50 years ago, but we’re not one iota happier”. Perhaps the same could be said of us here in Barbados.
When we observe the development attained over the past half century, the changes have been astronomical. In speaking to some of the older members of our communities, we often hear stories about walking to school barefoot, having one new outfit per year, catching water from the standpipe, doing laundry by hand, and many other relatively simple means of day-to-day living. Nowadays, most households in Barbados have at least one vehicle; new clothing is no longer reserved solely for Christmas celebrations or the yearly Exhibition in Queen’s Park, and our household amenities rival commercial enterprises in terms of their capabilities.
In spite of this, can it be said that Barbadians are any happier?
While our current standard of living affords us greater ease in completing our daily tasks, many of these marvellous conveniences are often taken for granted. This is very evident during this time of economic hardship currently being experienced. Although there are several residents who are genuinely suffering through this very trying period, it can also be said that there are countless others who are “feeling the pinch” because they refuse to adjust their lives to suit the situation.
In spite of or maybe because of the financial difficulties being felt, we should take advantage of this time to focus on what is important – the safety, health and physical well-being of ourselves and our families. This should be a time to concentrate on family and other significant relationships. By spending more time with loved ones, it becomes easier to convey caring and affection without necessarily always resorting to material gifts. This inevitably leads to greater communication and understanding in relationships, thereby promoting a greater sense of happiness and self-worth for all concerned.
Apart from the natural, healthy, stress-relief benefits, spending time participating in outdoor activities is also an economical way of occupying free time. We are very fortunate in this region to enjoy mostly sunny and warm weather throughout the year, while many others have to go to great expense to enjoy such weather for only short periods of time. Walking, exercising, gardening and other outdoor activities promote better health and can save money, especially on the electricity that is used when the family remains indoors. Adopting this lifestyle also has implications for improving the health of our people and would likely lead to a decrease in the high incidence of chronic non-communicable diseases of which we spoke at length in this space last week.
Becoming more socially engaged also helps to take the focus away from material living. Community-based activities will inevitably lead to stronger, more close-knit neighbourhoods, a definite deterrent against threatened upsurges in household crime. A greater level of satisfaction is generally achieved under circumstances where there are harmonious relationships between neighbours and friends and there is a general acceptance of each one being his or her brother’s keeper. Volunteering our time and resources to children’s activities as well as the elderly should be seen as an opportunity to enhance particularly the lives of those who are less fortunate and, especially in children, is a valuable lesson in cultivating public spiritedness and a sense of charity, while also developing a greater sense of appreciation for what we have.
Even though it is undeniable that one needs money to exist and maintain a certain lifestyle, so as not to be a burden on the resources of the state, the old adage that money doesn’t buy happiness is apparently very accurate. By reverting to simpler and cheaper ways of life, we might just be able to claim true happiness, even during this economic crisis.