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Economic progress should not be Taiwan's only goal
Publication Date : 15-09-2013
You might find it hard to believe it but Taiwan is the second happiest country among members of the East Asian community, just between South Korea in 41st place and Japan in 43rd, according to a recent survey of 156 countries conducted by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network.
The international body released its 2013 World Happiness Report on Monday and Taiwan scored 6.221 points out of 10 in terms of “how satisfied people are with their lives,” up from the 46th position a year earlier. Denmark topped the list for the second consecutive year with 7.693 points, followed by Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden.
To understand why scores may have changed, the research team at Columbia University's Earth Institute in New York measured six variables linked to 75 per cent of the reasons behind the differences, namely real GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on, perceived freedom to make life choices, freedom from corruption and generosity. Compared to the results published a year ago, the “happiness scores” went down in 41 countries and up for 60, such as Taiwan, which improved its score by 0.032 points.
But does it mean that Taiwanese people are happier now than they were a year ago for all that? Not from a statistical point of view. The most important underlying message of the report is that we need to change the way people think. Economic progress should not be the only goal a nation aims for and we all need to focus more on quality of life and less on GDP.
Without doubt, policy should be more closely aligned with what really matters to people as they themselves characterise their well-being. In countries hit by the financial crisis, for instance, the survey shows that job losses and other economic factors led to the most declines in people's spirits. At the same time, respondents pointed out that political instability equally played an important factor in their perception of their well-being over the last 12 months.
With this observation in mind, our ruling and opposition parties should work harder to stop political infighting and bring more prosperity to the country. The economy is what the general public cares about in priority, for sure, but the proper handling of the current political upheaval over a case of alleged influence peddling involving Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng is equally important for everybody's mood.
In addition to paying closer attention to their citizens' moods, our leaders must also admit that there are many areas that the country needs to improve. Taiwan still has inadequate ratings in categories such as housing, education and the environment, which are keys for all residents to live more productive lives and experience more happiness. Happiness can also help people earn more and be better citizens.
By measuring prosperity that goes beyond material wealth, we should focus our attention on the idea that economic growth must be “inclusive, equitable and balanced,” as well as promote sustainable development that successfully alleviates poverty. If people can contribute to the common good, they will find themselves enriched.
As secretary-general of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon puts it, “promoting happiness will help build the future we want.” That's the message Taiwanese people should hear in order to be more confident about their future.