Emil Røyrvik (31) qualified as a social anthropologist at NTNU and is now a researcher at SINTEF Industrial Management where he works with learning, knowledge and culture in the working life.
Foto: Roar Øhlander

A dollar a week

They have given us nerves, anxiety, paranoia, psychosis, depression, phobia and various derangements. The list of miseries is long, from birth trauma via bed-wetting and many mid-life crises to potency problems and Alzheimer’s disease. Finally, psychologists have come up with findings on something nice – happiness.

With names like Ed Eiener, David Myers, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Norbert Schwartz, Daniel Kahneman and naturally David Lykken (whose surname means happiness in Norwegian), the psychology of the last decade shows sensational results for the reasons for human happiness. There is a surprisingly high level of agreement for the following conclusions:

Almost everyone (around 90 percent) is surprisingly happy nearly all the time and all consider themselves happier than everyone else.

Totally decisive events one would have thought would influence happiness, like winning the lottery or losing your partner, only have a short-term effect, like six months to one year.

Every person remains in or around their stable level of happiness, a level that is mainly the result of genes and which is extremely resistant to influence.

Common factors like gender, age, nationality, income, place of residence and level of education have very little connection with happiness. However, people in developing countries suffering from starvation, sickness and suppression are less happy. A minimum calorie intake and physical security rapidly increase the level up to the stable level of happiness, while further increases in prosperity do not lead to increases in happiness

Great that things are good, you are thinking, but so what? This provides us with the best ammunition to “slaughter” some of the things that we consider to be most sacred. If it were common knowledge that material abundance has absolutely no effect on how we experience happiness, we would suddenly be free of advertising, the identity industry, branding, all sorts of sales people and sales strategies. When will we hear the last word from the consumer culture?

The permeating dogma about economic growth can also take two or three hard knocks. If growth does not have any effect on people’s experience of living a good life, why do we bend over backwards for this growth dictatorship? And even though harping on about the results from the psychologists can be dangerous for your health if technological advances and political reforms don’t make us happier, there should still be room for some change.

It is, therefore, also a factor that abundance is played up. When we have received the basic necessities of life, like food, clean water and physical safety, the other things don’t play a part in our experience of happiness. Therefore, to maximise the total amount of happiness on earth, the best we can do, according to Danish popular scientific author Tor Nørretranders, is for every one of us who belongs to the wealthy billion on earth to give one dollar a week to the billion who are starving.

An annual figure of $US 50 million is sufficient to end starvation in the world. I have followed Nørretranders’ example and paid the “annual global tax” to www.netaid.org to achieve an end to starvation. In this way, we will get a happy world in addition, without reducing anything. If that does not work, we should bite the dust.