Thursday, February 1, 2007

Fun, happiness, reality and laughter

Click here to participate in a Global Happiness survey which seeks to determine such as the happiness level of the world along with the world's happiest and saddest countries.

A caveat: It's hard to put much stock by this poll when -- at least when I checked the results (which have a day-to-day as well as "all time" options) -- it lists the United Kingdom and Malaysia both as the happiest and saddest countries today! This notwithstanding, I reckon that some of the responses which are available for perusal in the site's
Comments sections can make for interesting or amusing (or both) reading... ;b

On a more serious note: A while back, a friend passed me a clipping from a March 2006 issue of Hong Kong's South China Morning Post (a newspaper which I used to regularly read on-line until -- boo, hiss! -- it initiated its "paid subscription" policy). Entitled Cheer up, we're not so miserable, the article interviewed two academics, one Australian and one Hong Konger, about their specialty subject: i.e., "finding out how happy we are, and why".

Among this pair's findings had been that whereas people in developed western countries (including Australia) tend to rate their well-being at an average of 7.5 on a scale of 0 to 10, Hong Kongers gave answers that averaged out at closer to 6.5 on the same scale. However, the researchers argued, cultural differences -- more than actual reality -- may explain that (point) discrepancy.

At the same time, culture -- in particular, a cultural tendency to report themselves higher on the well-being scale -- was pinpointed as a factor which accounted for Nigerians topping the happiness rankings of the multiple country survey carried out by that which calls itself the International Wellbeing Group.

That last conclusion got me thinking of one of my favorite books of all time. Return to Laughter: An Anthropological Novel by Elenore Smith Bowen (the nom de plume of one of my anthropological heroes, Laura Bohannan) is based on the socio-cultural anthropologist's fieldwork experiences among the Tiv of Nigeria.

A classic of anthropological literature which was first published in 1954 (and a genuinely good read), it contains the following meditations of laughter and its true meaning for the people who ended up teaching a lot of life lessons to the book's anthropologist protagonist:-


The cripple must be a fool not to realize . . . A fool? Or mad. In such a situation one must either laugh or go mad, laugh at the reality or be made in the illusion...

In an environment in which tragedy is genuine and frequent, laughter is essential to sanity. Such laughter is neither callous nor humorous...


These people know the reality and laugh at it. Such laughter has little concern with what is funny. It is often bitter and sometimes a little mad, for it is the laugh under the mask of tragedy, and also the laughter that masks tears. They are the same. It is the laughter of people who value love and friendship and plenty, who have lived with terror and death and hate.

To be worst,

The lowest and most dejected thing of fortune,
Stands still in esperance, lives not in fear;
The lamentable change is from the best,
The worst returns to laughter.

3 comments:

leo86 said...

Sorry, but I'm too miserable to participate in a global happiness survey. :(

YTSL said...

Hi leo86 --

Based on that remark (and the posted about academic findings), I would be able to say with utter certainty that you're not Nigerian... ;b

eliza bennet said...

Hahahaha this exchange made me happy :)