Saturday, April 07, 2007

What does it take to be happy?

Waiting for my hair to be cut at the hairdresser today, I was reading an article in a German science magazine about happiness. The article was relying heavily on the world database of happiness, a research project at the University of Rotterdam in the Netherlands. The researchers found that the Danes and Swiss are the happiest people, while people in Ukraine, Zimbabwe and Tanzania are the least happy. Out of 95 nations assessed, the US, one of the wealthiest countries, only ranks 17th by happiness. Why?

While the per capita income in the US is even higher than that of Switzerland, the income is far less evenly distributed. With per capita income slightly below the US, Switzerland is still one of the wealthiest nations in per head income. The big difference to the US is that the income is more evenly distributed, and that Switzerland and Denmark take much better care of their underprivileged citizens. Switzerland even has some sort of negative income tax, where, if somebody has an income under the poverty level, not only do they not have to pay taxes, but they even can request additional compensation payments from the state.

The researchers found that as individuals we are happy if we can help other people, or express our gratitude to other people. Interestingly, after having reached a certain level of comfort, people do not get happier if they accumulate even more. Your average billionaire is not happier than a moderately well-off person! Generally people are happy if they have more than the people they compare themselves against. This explains why the Eastern Germans where happier before the Berlin wall came down. Compared to other Eastern Europeans in Poland, Bulgaria, etc., they were well off. After German unification, compared to their Western German cousins, although in absolute numbers Eastern Germans had more than before, in comparison they had much less.

The smaller the differences in happiness among different groups of the population, the happier the population is as whole. What this means is that a society that takes care of everybody as a whole is much happier. Taking care of the swarm is a good thing, also for the caretaker! She/he will be a much happier person that way!

Another reason for us Swiss to be happier than most is that we feel in charge. It seems that having control over our own destiny is one way of making us happier, and Switzerland has one of the most direct democracies, where citizens vote many times per year on the country, state, and town level on a plethora of subjects. Getting involved in the decision-making process is also a great way to get buy-in for unpopular decision.

Compared to the Swiss, the US democracy, where citizens can only elect people, but not influence actions directly, affords much lower levels of direct influence for an individual. Sure, I can write a letter to my senator, but there is no guarantee that she/he will vote in the Senate in my sense. In a direct democracy, I can take things in my own hands, vote the way I want, or even start a referendum to ask for a citizens’ vote on issues I want to get changed.

Conclusions for swarm businesses and collaborative innovation networks are obvious: take care of the swarm, delegate power to the swarm, let swarm members decide. This will lead to a happy and high performing swarm, and then you, as the instigator of the swarm will reach your goal and be happy, too.

1 comment:

  1. too much and nothing or too little must be decided directly by the community...but society`s infrastructure must be in place and the community must be vigilant of their rights!