Are Bengalis the happiest people in the world?

2013-12-23 21:57

So I was out of the country for Nelson Mandela’s death, his 10 days of mourning and as well as his funeral. My excuse: I spent some time in rural Bangladesh. And it really opened my eyes.

Before I started my journey I had done my own research about Bangladesh. I had stumbled upon an article that Bangladesh had once been the happiest country in the world in the late 2000s. As for the reasons why, it was strong family bonds and a culture where everyone took care of one another that bound together. No one has unending wants and desires; Bangladesh has one of the lowest ecological footprints in the world. The demands of the people places almost a non-existent burden on the earth’s capacity to regenerate and sustain their demands, yet Bangladesh is a dreamland for the Western world’s fashion industry and only the second most vulnerable country to the effects of global warming and climate change, after Haiti. Nonetheless, poor people are happy as long as they have a roof over their head and food to eat. As long as you are happy, I am happy was the mentality.

I went there and found exactly that: a peaceful community, and even a shock of disbelief from the locals when they saw that I wasn’t ‘like’ them. I was amazed to find how the people of Barguna lead such simple lives. Low expectations is the mentality. Everyone acts in decency and no one fights with another. Everyone is friendly and they seem to have a great tolerance for one another. They seem to be always on the move. Although the traffic was hectic and sometimes unbearable, people do what they need to do and get where they need to be.

Everyone works so hard but no one appears exhausted. One would expect that people derive their happiness from the level of income. Their small incomes is never not enough. There’s no pressure to keep up with the Joneses. The people are so poor yet everyone is content and no one ever seems to be cash strapped, sluggish, unsettled or even downright miserable. Bengalis are extremely hospitable. They live in small, sometimes unworldly houses but with a big family and a cuisine that is very diverse.

Yet even after such simplicity and contentment, even in poor living conditions, poor sanitation and poor water quality, it seems as if the contented nature of the people of Bangladesh has lead them to come to accept their social, economic and environmental circumstances as something that is natural.

It saddens me when I look at today’s youth and the future leaders of South Africa, who have become more of beneficiaries and title seekers than agents of change. We have rooted a culture of crass materialism and entitlement that is not only prevalent amongst the youth but also within the political arena. BEE, affirmative action, tenderpreneurs, trade unions and collective bargaining, and a bling bling generation have all seemed to quash the importance of hard work as a critical condition for, and measure of success.

The neoliberal policies of the current political dispensation may have failed to uphold the principles of the Freedom Charter and provide a better life for all, but for me, there seems to be no real sense of urgency to do what we need to do and get where we need to be.

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