Sunday, January 27, 2008

Does Democracy Equal Happiness?

I'm almost finished a really great book- The Geography of Bliss: One Grumps Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner. It's a fascinating read and I could hardly put it down. Eric travelled to an assortment of countries looking for happiness and what he found is definitely interesting. If you have read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert you should balance it out with this book. I think they compliment each other nicely.

In his search for the happiest place in the world he decided to check out one of the unhappiest places which turns out to be Moldova. He has some interesting thoughts on Communism and Democracy and I noted this one paragraph to share:

It's not that democracy makes people happy but rather that happy people are much more likely to establish a democracy.

The soil must be rich, culturally speaking, before democracy can take root.
The institutions are less important than the culture. And what are the cultural
ingredients needed for democracy to take root? Trust and tolerance. Not
only trust of those inside your group- family, for instance- but external trust.
Trust of strangers. Trust of your opponents, your enemies, even. That way you
feel you can gamble on other people- and what is democracy but one giant
crapshoot?


It first made me think of Iraq, and the imposition of democracy on its people. Has there ever been one instance of a forced democracy working successfully? Can you think of one? In all the former communist countries which are now quasi-democracies, are the people measurably happier? We've lived in a few of these countries ourselves and very few people ever claim to be happier than they were before, much less do they claim to just be happy. They are some of the least happy places in the world. And they often talk about the "good old days". No doubt, one day the Iraqis will do the same.

Successful democracies are born from within. Happy, trusting people create them themselves.

5 comments:

Cynthia Rae said...

Hey Kim!
I was just wondering if you still the same email address? I have sent three or four emails these past two months, but have never heard back from you. Do I have the right address?

Cyn

Ll.T. said...

Hi Kim,

Can I have this article?

Lynda said...

Interesting topic - I had long discussions with my brother-in-law in Germany about how the integration of West & East has panned out... very messy. And as you say, there is still talk of 'the good ol' days'... when everybody had a job, childcare was not a problem, etc etc. But then I recently read Stasiland by Anna Funder and it was heartbreaking to hear the pressure that the people were under in the East. I too, wonder about the Iraqi people and how this 'forced democracy' will pan out...

traveller one said...

Cyndi... I sent you an email just now. Let me know if it ets through to you!

LL... You can use my post of course. Do you want to read the book?

Lynda...Once you've lived in an ex-communist country you find yourself analysing why things are the way they are all the time. It's one of my favourite subjects!

Myrthe said...

It's the same here in Armenia as what Lynda described: many people (especially the 40-45+ section) keep reminiscing about the Soviet past. On the one hand it annoys me to death, because what's the point of living in the past? On the other hand I understand the longing to the past of many of these people so well: life simply was easier then. People had jobs, food, a house, health care and education were affordable etc. They did have less day-to-day worries.

Kim, I love your reply to Lynda, but I think it is true. Living in a post-communist country (or, I suppose, in any country where the level of life is considerably lower than in 'the West') does alter your view of things and does make you think about why things are the way they are.

By the way, the book does sound interesting.