Happiness, economics and globalisation…

Great article on the Yes! magazine website (thanks to Brian McLaren for the link.)

The article deals with an old theme here- what makes for a full, satisfied life? How do we live in harmony with our community connections to facilitate this kind of living in those about us? (See here for example.)

There is a narcissism at the heart of our culture that elevates individual ‘success’ and fulfilment above all else. There has always been a terrible contradiction in this for me- in much of our activities, success for one has to mean failure for most. Add to this the effects of globalised inequality, in which overconsumption of the few requires the exploitation of the many and the myth of democratic meritocracy begins to look like what it is; thinly disguised Imperialism.

This way of organising ourselves has become a trap that we are all caught in. We in the West get fat behind our guarded borders, whilst those the other side of the frontier are sold impossible aspirational ideas of Western glamour and our obsession with new gadgets.

There is evidence everywhere that this arrangement is not working. This from the article mentioned above;

Our global economy is effective at many things—moving huge quantities of goods across great distances, for example, or turning mortgages into profits. What it’s not so good at is determining whether these activities are worthwhile when it comes to improving the lives of the people who live and work within the economy (not to mention preserving the natural systems on which the whole shebang depends). In many cases, economic policies that increase trade or production actually decrease well-being for millions, even billions, of people.

That’s the reality that’s leading more people (and, increasingly, governments, from Bhutan and Bolivia toBritain and France) to ask a very simple question: What’s the economy for, anyway? Do the rules and policies we create to govern the flow of money and goods exist to create ever more money and goods, or to improve our lives? And if we decide we’d like to prioritize the latter, how do we rewrite the rules to do that?

The article interviews makers of a documentary film, entitled The Economics of Happiness;

Here is what one of the makers of the film (Helena Norberg-Hodge, the film’s director and the founder of the International Society for Ecology and Culture) had to say;

In countries around the world, in fact, there is an epidemic of depression and suicides and eating disorders. With this film, we’re trying to show that, when you look at the big picture, these social issues—as well as our environmental problems—are linked to an economic system that promotes endless consumerism. Fundamental to that system are trade policies that promote the expansion of giant multinational corporations…

Norberg-Hodge and her colleagues strongly promote the idea of localisation as a solution to some of our social-economic woes;

I’ve spoken with some journalists who ask, “Well, how do we know what happiness is? Who are you to say what it is that constitutes happiness?” It’s true that there are many definitions, but I’m most interested in the abundant research that says that people all around the world, more than anything, need to feel loved, appreciated, seen, and heard—especially as children growing up. They need to be nurtured in order to become nurturing, loving and happy people. That is what localization is all about. That’s why localization is the economics of happiness—because it’s about restoring that human connection and care. In addition to research, consider our spiritual traditions. Virtually all of them have a clear message that love is the path to peace and to happiness.

Because people so need to be seen and heard, respected and cared for by one another, rebuilding community at the local level can dramatically restore human well-being…

…When people reach out to each other to start rebuilding the local economy—for example through the local food movement or local business alliances—we see a reduction in polarization, across political divides as well as across ethnic ones. At the same time, localization helps people reconnect to the natural world around them, something which fulfills another deep human need.

These are the things that really restore human happiness, and they come through localization.

I find myself instinctively responding to these words and ideas. They seem right. Possibly because they offer a means by which our spiritual life, community life, and economic life can come together again after being split apart by consumerism and accommodation with a culture founded on exploitation of others.

And as a follower of Jesus, the primary measure of a good life can never be economic success, acquisition of gadgets or protection of what I have already from those who have less. Living as a Christian in this kind of economic reality is like trying to fit a camel through the eye of a needle.

If there is to be any kind of change in our way of being, starting locally seems to me to be the only way forward. Find some friends and do things differently- it is the Jesus way.

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