As the west gets more prosperous, we don't seem to get any happier - why not? It's because money doesn't buy you happiness, your mum was right! Up to a certain point an increase in income can make a difference, but once you have a roof over your head, clothes on your back and food on your table, any more money does very little for your happiness. So one way we can make everybody happy is to get everybody up to this point financially.
Other than this, there are basically 2 strands to the argument, first, psychologists have studied happiness and come up with a pretty good idea of what makes people happy. Also, evolutionary biologists have looked at mankind as an animal and figured out the environment that we need to live happy lives - just like modern zoo keepers have figured out how to keep animals without them pacing in their cages and pulling their fur out.
Psychologists have studied happiness since the 60s and they've come up with ways of measuring happiness and a lot of information about the causes. Science has a list of things which make people happy, here are some examples.
- Feeling part of a community
- Eating a healthy diet
- Getting regular exercise
- Experiencing nature
- Being married
- Helping people
- Counting your blessings
We've also got a list of things which make people unhappy, for example.
- Feeling isolated
- Working too hard
- Substance abuse
- Not being in control of your life
- Bad diet
- Unhappy thinking
Happiness theory also looks at how people think, we pick up habits of thought which can be either helpful to happiness - or not. However, it is possible to re-train your thoughts to stop them bringing you down. For more information about this kind of thing I can recommend books by Richard Carlson and Martin P. Seligman.
We live in a zoo! Let's face it, this is not our natural habitat, we should be either sitting in trees eating fruit or running across the plains and chasing gazelles. Instead we're sitting in little hutches staring at little screens and exhibiting lots of the behaviour exhibited by victorian zoo animals.
Any good zoo keeper knows that animals can live happily in zoos - as long as they have the key elements of their natural habitats. A meercat needs somewhere to burrow and somewhere high to stand up on it's hind legs and keep watch. Lions need a large area to range through, just as house cats need a territory to guard.
Human monkeys are no different, our biology and instincts still dictate what kind of habitat we need to be happy, so what do humans need?
- we need to see plants and trees
- we need to see water and a nice view - this shows us that the world is habitable
- we need to be around other people - our troop - but also to have private space
Also, human monkeys are social animals, so a lot of our needs are related to our place in a troop of other monkeys. Early human groups seem to be around 50 to 100 people, a figure reflected in modern day tribes people - and also in the size of many modern companies.
You can sum this up in three key terms - territory, tribe, status. If we don't have these things - or an obvious route towards attaining them then we start to have psychological problems. Zoo animals rock in their cages, self harm (overgroom), masturbate, pace and abuse visitors. Humans are very often displaying exactly the same behaviour.
Zoos have changed dramatically in the last 50 years as keepers have realized what animals need, Governments must begin to act like enlightened zoo keepers and offer the people the environment they need to live normal natural lives.