Last Friday evening I joined a group of transition-towners and other interested parties for the screening of The Economics of Happiness, the latest documentary offering of Helena Norberg-Hodge. It is a lovely film and, unlike some other myth-shattering films I’ve seen in the last years it leaves one with a sense of optimism. Ms. Norberg-Hodge has spent the better part of 35 years as an analyst of how the global economy impacts cultures worldwide, and as a pioneer in the localization movement. This film begins with a heart-warming view of the Ladakhi people of northernIndia. Until their introduction to the ‘global economy’ they were a colourful culture producing all of their needed food. They were a rich group with spacious, comfortable homes, no poverty and the time to pursue cultural interests like song and dance. Judging by their smiles they were genuinely happy people. Now, with the onset of different expectations due to the influence of advertising they have leapt into the modern world replete with religious tensions (previously Muslims and Buddhists lived peacefully side-by-side in this mountainous community for hundreds of years), unemployment etc. . . . .

In this film, Norberg-Hodge debunks some long-held views about globalization with eight “inconvenient truths”. Some tie globalization to climate change and human unhappiness; others point out that globalization is based on false accounting and built on handouts to big business. In a sense, the global economy is an extension of colonialism.

The film also points out that globalization causes feelings of alienation. Young people in the less industrialized parts of the world are made to feel backward and inferior in contrast to the romanticized media images of the West. Even in the West, where marketing now targets children at earlier and earlier ages, the message is: you are not enough. You need the latest fashions, the latest technological devices, the perfect body and face to be someone. These pressures are linked to a worldwide epidemic of depression and psychological disorders.

I must say that watching this documentary took me right back to my time in the 1980s spent with two dramatically different cultures, the Trobriand Islanders of the Western Pacific and the Hunzas of Northern Pakistan. Each of these groups was locally producing almost everything they needed. They were culturally rich, genuinely happy people. I know that my focus on community and localism today was largely shaped by the intimate time I spent with these two enlightened groups of beautiful traditional people. We could do worse than to turn away from globalization and to return to strong, vibrant local communities.

One statistic cited in the film remains with me. In an annual study of Americans begun in 1952 the peak of happiness or contentment in the U.S.A was in 1955. It has been going down ever since, despite theU.S.A.becoming an increasingly monetarily rich nation in the decades since. GNP is a misleading indicator of economic performance. When people get sicker GNP goes up because more money is spent on health care. When companies produce environmentally destructive and wasteful products GNP goes up. It’s a measure of money spent. I prefer to look to Gross National Happiness, the measure first cited in 1976 byBhutan’s fourth king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, We should know by now that money doesn’t produce happiness, lives of meaning do. Watch the film if you can; and spend a little more this week locally than you have been. Patronize your local bank (New Zealand only has two truly Kiwi banks –The Kiwi Bank and Tasman Savings Bank) or business.  You’ll be helping to reinvigorate your little part of the world.

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Radio host, inspirational speaker and health educator John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives and the recently released Beyond the Search, books to lift the spirit and touch the heart. See http://www.JohnHainesBooks.com

 

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