Happiness vs Unhappiness

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MANILA, Philippines—The March 2008 Social Weather Survey, using a standard scale of many countries, found 34 percent of adult Filipinos Very Happy, 46 percent Fairly Happy, 16 percent Not Very Happy, and 3.6 percent Not At All Happy. (In Tagalog, the surveys of Social Weather Stations, or SWS, use “talagang masaya,” “medyo masaya,” “hindi masyadong masaya,” and “talagang hindi masaya.”) Conventionally, the upper two categories are Happy, and the lower two are Unhappy. Thus happiness and unhappiness get measured at the same time. Out of every five adult Filipinos, four are happy and one is not. That is probably a little over the world average, for those who go for international contests. For me, what matters more is progress over time. It so happens that the time-trend for Happy Filipinos is flat. The percentage started at 84 in July 1991. In 16 SWS surveys over 1991-2008, it ranged between 76 in August 2005, and 92 in April 1996. With three scores in the 70s, 12 in the 80s, and one in the 90s, it is clear that happiness is not a problem for most adult Filipinos. Wouldn’t it be more meaningful to keep track of unhappiness instead? The unhappy minority are not so few—8 million Not Very Happy, and 2 million Not At All happy, or a total of 10 million. That’s a significant number to worry about, if such people deserve the collective worry of society. The key issue is whether unhappiness is only a personal concern, or whether it is also a social concern, like hunger or poverty. The reason hunger and poverty are social concerns is that they are painful and harmful not only to the hungry and the poor, but also to the entire society. Virtually everyone accepts that the government, in behalf of society, should aim to eradicate hunger and poverty. Thus the regular tracking of hunger and poverty is essential. (But targeting is not sufficient; aiming an unloaded gun is of no use.) But why should the government also aim to eradicate unhappiness? Surely it already has other...
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