This is probably my final blog post…
What is happiness? I don’t think anyone can pinpoint the definition of this word because there are so many ways to be happy. One thing for sure, happiness is not proportional to the amount of wealth in one’s possession. In fact, we can be happy from very simple things that are given to us. For me, happiness comes from the ability to appreciate what you have. Coming from this perspective, being well-off sometimes just doesn’t do the good. Well, this is the case with me at least.
When I first came to Ukraine, my family didn’t have much money. We were living in a very small two-room flat. My dad was finishing his PhD thesis, so we had to live off the money he had earned before that. It was difficult, but during the first summer my dad would still drive the whole family to the local McDonalds to buy the cheapest ice-cream they had on offer: vanilla cone that back then cost around 20p. My sister and I would have one ice-cream each because that was all my parents could afford. Looking back, those were the happiest days in my life. Now my family is in a much better position; my parents can afford to send me to England to study and I have Häagen-Dazs instead, but all these are not necessarily as valuable as the vanilla cones I had when I was nine. I definitely appreciated everything I had more back then.
Luckily, we can use economics to explain the phenomenon of happiness.
Economics is largely based on the theory of utility. The more goods we consume, the more utility we derive. Pretty simple I guess. However, is happiness equal to the amount of utility we can get? Many people would say so, but if happiness is all about appreciating, then this is not true. Instead, happiness must be the marginal utility you can derive from consuming an extra unit of good. And the truth is most people in our world have diminishing marginal utilities. If I couldn’t afford a vanilla cone, and you gave me one, I would be over the moon. At that very moment, nothing in the world can make me happier. However, if I could buy plenty of them, and you gave me one more, it would mean nothing to me.
The more we possess the less appreciative and happy we become from gaining extra. Simple economics tells us that consumerism and wealth will eventually eliminate happiness from the world. This may explain why poor working people in countries like Nepal and Vietnam look content and happy with their lives. Sure, there are many things that can be improved and done, but those people are much happier because they can appreciate every little thing they get – the things that people in the Western world now take for granted. Unfortunately, there is no going back on this. We can only try our best to find the rare simple moments of true happiness.
Happiness is difficult to understand. One will need to go through all the ups and downs of life in order to gain just a vague idea. It is no good being in your comfort seat and thinking that you know what makes people happy. I guess it is a bit naive and idealistic. Really, go and experience the world through your eyes and see for yourself what makes you and other people happy. For me, nothing can make me happier than being loved and surrounded by friends and family, even if that means I will not be able to buy the latest iPhone that’s coming out.