Scenario two: you are in perfect health and in a loving relationship. You are not rich but your material needs are met. You live in a society that allows you to be yourself and in which the people around you generally behave kindly. However, the rules depend on who you are. One part of society operates under restrictions while another enjoys advantages. If I don’t tell you which group you are in, can you tell me if it is likely that you are happy there?
You can. According to statistics, you are probably not all that happy. On the whole, all people prefer to live in a society which is fair, or at least in one that they think is fair. Yes, the difference between the perceptions of the privileged and the reality of the situation is another whole problem, and another blog post. So is having the courage to try to change an unfair system. But in spite of the fact that most people in both groups will tolerate inequities, at least up to a point, the fact is that most folks would rather not have them. Interesting, huh?
Where do I get this idea? Well, several times now I’ve posted about a report on which countries have the happiest people. I spent some time reading the report once I became intrigued to learn that six attributes account for most of the variation in world happiness. I summed up the six categories as health, wealth, freedom, love, kindness and fairness. I’ve already written about the first five and today I’m thinking about fairness.
How did the happiness survey measure a population’s sense of fairness? Good question. For each of the attributes they sought out simple yardsticks that could be used to quiz participants without employing loaded words or using terms referring to happiness. To assess the quality that I refer to as fairness, they asked participants about how corrupt they thought their society was. I make the assumption that corruption results in a lack a fairness, and perhaps that other forms of injustice arise more easily in a society with lax standards. While these correlations are probably true, the question downplays deeply rooted imbalances with a long history (such as racism in the Unites States) or those that are largely universal (such as sexism everywhere).
Now you might think that people would prefer to live a society in which they somehow had an advantage, and I’m sure some do. However, I believe that this survey supports the fact that most people understand at their core that if anyone can be denied rights, then their own rights are never totally safe either. I believe that most people understand in their hearts that an inequitable system puts the privileged in the unpleasant position of remaining always vigilant and ready to fight to keep their privileges. I believe that this says that many don’t like the idea that they got what is theirs through a system that cheats, and many more don’t like the idea that another is suffering so they can have more.
It is true that over the eons people have found ways to justify imbalances that work to their own advantage. Sadly, the most common one is religion. God always seems to favor the class of people making the rules. Sometimes biology is used for justification, other times a sense of obligation to care for the less fortunate. Now matter how it is couched, the downtrodden groups continue to produce scientists, athletes, leaders and heroes of all sorts that defy the justifications for discrimination. And good people from all situations cheer them on.
Today, I’m rereading this survey and indulging in a little happy dance of my own. You see, everyone knows life isn’t fair. But it seems that most of the world joins me in wishing that is was.
(For more posts on the subject of what makes us happy see If you want to be happy move to a cold country?, Happiness fascinates me, None of us are normal if we’re lucky, Four Reasons I Love It When “Love Wins”, Some Kind of Kindness, and When is it time for “More”?)