Working For The GNH
There are all kinds of studies out there about how higher technology, progress, or per capita income doesn't lead to higher happiness. One of the more interesting ranks Nigeria, a country that arguably any "developed worlder" is glad they weren't born in, as highest in world happiness.
Apparently, this is due to a variety of factors that are more and more prevalent in a competitively commercial society, verses one based more on the need for community to fight together against hunger and strife. This transcript of a lecture given by Professor Richard Layard gives some revealing explanations of the actual forces acting here.
A couple of the culprits: Habituation and Rivalry. Habituation is the force that made you throw out your 386 as worthless a few years ago; Even though it could still do the miraculous things, like check spelling on the fly, edit 16 bit color images, and probably play as million games, with time, our minds grow accustomed to that level, and once another, higher level is introduced (a Pentium, for example) we begin to minimize the value of our current level. Obviously this mental predilection has serious evolutionary advantages, since we would have constantly felt pushed to improve the amount of food, cave, mates, offspring, or whatever else we needed to amass to stay alive to the next generation.
Rivalry serves a similar evolutionary purpose, since it's in our interest to have OUR genes survive, rather than our fellow humans. Now, though, without genetic dominance at stake, we still try to out class, out stuff, and out gadget our neighbors with little conscious understanding of why we are doing it; We're not consciously doing it, it's a vestige of our ancestors.
In cultures where a strong sense of family, community, unifying religion, or common purpose bring them together, these pressures can be suppressed (Nigeria, Bhutan, or the Pennsylvania Dutch are all prime examples). The result is that many low income, low technology countries, and even a number of very rich ones who value community and unity of purpose highly(like Denmark) are the highest happiness countries around. Ruut Veenhoven's World Happiness Database has information on a whole load of countries, if you're interested. Additionally, Bhutan has done some research of its own on the subject of GNH.
Like so many IDFuel articles before this one, you've got to be asking by now, "What the heck?" "So what?" "Get to the point already". Fine.
Our point is this: If the countries who are recognized for having many of the best industrial designers, and arguably the most well-designed (or at least most designed) products in the world also aren't the happiest, what are we working for? We've already shown that science, technology, design, and insight can conquer hunger, fear of illness, our restriction of working in daylight only, and even given us something better than horses to ride.
But once you solve all the problems you thought were making you sad, and you're still not getting happier, shouldn't design start looking at things differently? If we're not working for happiness, what are we designing for?
Copyright 2004-2006 Dominic Muren and IDFuel Team