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Saffiyah Lane The Pursuit of Happiness Saffiyah Lane The Pursuit of Happiness

Student perspectives: The problem of unhappiness

Diana Alvarez
05 May 2021
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3 mins read

Safiyyah Lane is a 20-year-old gap year student who is passionate about politics, entrepreneurship and sustainability. Safiyyah participated in the first LIS Sprint. 

At the end of the 5-week Sprintparticipants were tasked with finding a way to measure unhappiness amongst the British population, that put to use the knowledge and skills they’d learnt from multiple disciplines during the Sprint. 

Saffiyah has shared her reflections on the problem of unhappiness and how her team tackled the task set for their final project on the Sprint below. 

‘The Pursuit of Happiness’ 

Written by Safiyyah Lane 

 The word contagious is synonymous with germs, infection, and quarantine – three things we know all too well today. But did you know that ‘happiness’ is contagious too? When you are happy, your next-door neighbour has a 34% increased chance of also being happy. Your friend living within a 1-mile radius has a 25% increased chance of being happy. And your siblings have a 14% increased chance of also being happy. So, could it therefore also be true that unhappiness is contagious? 

According to the United Nation’s annually published World Happiness Report, the United Kingdom currently holds 13th place for the happiest country in the world. And I’m sure this comes as no surprise – the Nordic Region occupy the top three spots yet again which leaves us to consider two key questions. Firstly, what are we missing? And secondly, does this suggest an issue with our current definition and measure of ‘happiness’? 

The Sprint design challenge
Our final task of the LIS Sprint was to pitch a new measure of ‘happiness’ as a team. If happiness is contagious then, by definition, we must focus on more than the individual. 

Drawing on our own personal relationships and strong sense of community, Noah and I decided to focus our definition and measure on the collection notion of (un)happiness. It was also clear that this ‘Nordic exceptionalism’ came down to factors such as neighbourly support between citizens, support programmes for those in need and high levels of social trust towards each other. 

What do these ideas have in common? Their focus on community. The idea that happiness is not a solitary experience. It is dependent on others. Plus, it doesn’t stop there. Happiness is not an exclusively human experience. World happiness doesn’t exist without a sustainable solution, and it seems the Nordic Region have got it right there too. According to the International Hydropower Association, hydropower energy accounts for approximately 95% of Norway’s energy production, and by 2025, all vehicles in circulation must be powered by green energy. These are just some examples of the many measures put in place that demonstrates the inclusivity of their successful conception of happiness. 

Our measure drew on both primary and secondary data. We intended to use blood donation statistics as one example of the many ways in which members of “happy communities” seek to reinvest in their community. Crime statistics can also be used to consider the safety and perceived safety of the area. Electoral statistics can be used to explore the extent to which citizens within a “happy community” feel empowered to create and influence change, and waste and energy statistics can be used to demonstrate how far citizens value the happiness of their environment. We also decided to use a combination of interviews, questionnaires, and photography to help give us a deeper understanding of community member’s experiences. 

Although this was an ambitious project, we believed it was essential to obtain as much data as possible to then evaluate and analyse what happiness looks like according to a set criterion which would be drawn up before data collection. Our hope was that the final measurement would be adopted by local council, local government and in the future, perhaps even on a larger and more national scale, to encourage a more generous approach to community projects and realign our individual needs with our collective ones. We believe this is the only way that we can move forward. 

Reflecting on measurement and happiness 
Happiness is not a solitary experience. Our happiness is intertwined with the wellbeing of our communities. It is dependent on others. So, if happiness and unhappiness are contagious, our current definitions and measures are incomplete, and it becomes even more essential that we find creative, new solutions to tackle global unhappiness. But we must also consider the idea of competing happiness between individuals, communities and even nation states when looking at a community as a marker and signifier of happiness (or indeed unhappiness).  

While it is definitely the case that the pursuit of happiness cannot be an individual pursuit, we must also consider the following question: Is one community’s happiness dependant on another’s, or is happiness only achievable at the cost of another’s? 

Want to learn more about real- world problems, and how our students propose we tackle them? Visit the ID learning hub to read more student perspectives. 

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