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Why the world’s poorest nations are also the most satisfied – 2024-03-27 20:50:20

Melanesians in the Solomon Islands are extremely poor, yet they are happier than the richest nations in the world. According to the researchers, the key to the exceptionally high level of satisfaction in small and extremely poor communities seems to be the small importance of monetary exchange in their functioning.

The Melanesians living in the Roviana and Gizo regions of the Solomon Islands are among the poorest people in the world. They live a largely self-sufficient lifestyle, making a living mainly from fishing and agriculture. They then occasionally sell the surplus at the local market to buy processed food or pay their children’s school fees.

The luxuries of modern life, such as smart phones, internet or television, are hardly available for them. Despite this very materially simple way of life, however, these people express greater life satisfaction than the Finns and Danes, who regularly make the headlines as the happiest nations in the world.

This finding shatters the well-established and scientifically proven thesis that there is an obvious connection between income, wealth and life satisfaction. Until now, it was assumed that the more money someone has, the happier they should be. The richer the country, the happier its citizens should be. But as scientists are now discovering, some people deviate from this general trend. Indigenous people living in small, isolated communities tend to be just as satisfied with their lives as people in the richest countries. How is it possible?

Wealth and life satisfaction

Scientists from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona in Spain and McGill University in Canada decided to get an answer to this question. They traveled around the world to survey nearly three thousand members of 19 poor small companies in 18 different countries. For example, they visited the Kumbung area in Ghana, Laprak in Nepal, Vavatenin in Madagascar, Lonquimay in Chile and many other often quite remote places. They then published the results of their research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“The average reported life satisfaction among our 19 small companies surveyed is 6.8 out of 10, even though in most places the estimated annual cash income is less than one thousand US dollars per person,” the researchers said. Such high values ​​of life satisfaction are usually found only in countries where the GDP per inhabitant exceeds 40,000 dollars per year.

Western anthropologists who have visited small communities have therefore sought the source of the happiness of their otherwise very poor members. They found that these people derive a great deal of satisfaction from simple activities such as listening to music, taking a walk or simply relaxing. Relationships with friends and family and social life also bring them a lot of joy. Community members also typically highly value being in nature. After all, numerous other studies confirm that being outside in an untouched natural environment improves mood, health and overall well-being.

Money is just a substitute for other sources of happiness

However, other people in the world get similar simple joys, but they do not show such a level of satisfaction. But according to anthropologists, there is one fundamental difference that distinguishes many of those 19 small societies from people living in the rest of the world. Money plays only a small role in the life of these communities. In them, people produce only enough to satisfy their own needs, and only trade or barter to a small extent for non-basic goods and services.

Previous research by members of the same Barcelona and McGill team, in which they visited other small companies and compared their collective well-being, showed how crucial money plays a role. They found that in societies where monetary exchange played a more significant role, the reported factors of happiness changed. People stopped enjoying experiential activities in contact with nature and instead prioritized social and economic factors. In other words, rather than the simple joys of life, money suddenly brought them happiness. And since they were not received very often, their life satisfaction was also low.

The main conclusion, according to the researchers of this study, is that satisfaction with one’s life “does not require an increased level of material consumption, which is generally associated with high monetary income.” On the contrary, it turns out that monetary income can only be a substitute for other sources of happiness, which is especially visible in an environment where money has little or no utility.

¨”Economic growth and development are often seen as a crucial step towards improving human well-being in developing societies, but our findings suggest that high subjective well-being can also be achieved by directly focusing on factors such as the provision of basic needs, access to a healthy natural environment and social cohesion,” the researchers write in their paper.

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