KISSAH AND DAWAT: Beyond Self-Rule: Moros’ Collective Happiness and Wellbeing

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DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 14 May) – As the premier city in Mindanao and the third most populous in the country, this multicultural and multireligious metropolitan of more than 2.5 million inhabitants is an envy of many seeking life of happiness and wellbeing. It brings me to reflect on the Moros’ collective happiness – Does it lie in having a government of their own? Or in the pursuit of good governance? Or is it in what governance or good governance can provide, reform, change and transform?

In this piece, I would like us to consider, open up our minds and explore the psychological dimension of “happiness” and “wellbeing”. After all, when we talk about our state of affairs, we are all seekers of our own happiness and wellbeing and view governance in terms of what the institutions and political and bureaucratic actors can do to create or sustain the happiness and wellbeing we are seeking, individually and collectively. Also, I would like to expand the Moro developmental discourse by veering away from the common political, cultural, religious and historical lenses that most of us are familiar with.

Happiness, anyone?

We are all aware that our individual happiness, although common, is quite unique and different for each other in terms of depth, wide and direction. While there are those taking responsibility for their personal happiness, there are those who put others responsible for their happiness. Regardless of who is responsible, what really is “happiness”?

Rubin Khoddam (2015) in his online article “What’s Your Definition of Happiness?”[1] published by Psychology Today, cited the definition by Lyubomirsky et al. (2005): “a happy person as someone who experiences frequent positive emotions, such as joy, interest, and pride, and infrequent (though not absent) negative emotions, such as sadness, anxiety and anger.” Undoubtedly, there is more to happiness than just the interplay between positive and negative emotions. Khoddam added, “Regardless of where you are on the happiness spectrum, each person has their own way of defining happiness. Philosophers, actors, politicians, and everybody in between have all weighed in on their own view of happiness.”

While psychology in general and positive psychology in particular attempt to explain human mind and its impact on behaviors, the collective consciousness residing in a nation, region or community can be understood in contemporary efforts towards measuring people’s happiness and wellbeing. Such is the case of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index coined by its king in the 70s when he said, “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product.”[2] The Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative explains this concept of gross national happiness as “sustainable development” that “should take a holistic approach towards notions of progress and give equal importance to non-economic aspects of wellbeing.”[3]

Hedonic Wellbeing versus Eudaemonic Wellbeing

In her book on Positive Psychology (2012), Bridget Grenville-Cleave described two forms of happiness and wellbeing. The first one is “hedonic wellbeing” as championed by Greek philosopher Aristippus and the second one is “eudaemonic wellbeing” (also spelled eudaimonia or eudemonia) championed by another Greek philosopher, Aristotle. Aristippus viewed life as the pursuit of happiness and the avoidance of displeasure or pain, giving way to the hedonistic term of selfish pursuit that is momentary and short-lived.

Aristotle argued that there is more to life than just selfish and momentary pursuit of pleasure; happiness is a serious matter and merely pursuing hedonistic pleasure is vulgar, I reckon a travesty to human capacity and potentials. He used the word “eudaimonia” as alternate to the Aristippian argument. He believed that happiness is found in “doing what is worth doing” and not in just having a good time. Positive psychologists like Grenville-Cleave describe this as “happiness gain from the meaning and purpose in our lives, fulfilling our potential and feeling that we are of something bigger that ourselves”.

Implication to Bangsamoro

What is the implication of this argument to the Bangsamoro governance? This tells us that aside from the structural and legal remedies we are putting in place, attitudinal and cultural dimensions of such remedies are ultimately the indicators of success of our political experimentation.

This depends on the people running and managing the Bangsamoro bureaucracy. If the psychological frame hinges on hedonic wellbeing, then we are far from the expectations of improved socio-economic, security and political improvement we seek and has found elusive since the start of the political experimentation for the Moros. I fear, this mindset that had long reigned over our governance and politics will contribute to further popular alienation – decreasing trust and widening skepticism; thus, creating unhappiness and ill-being among the people. Worse, it will feed into and inflame the next and more disastrous cycle of violence and vendetta. In fact, with hedonic frame of mind at the helm, we are bound to repeat the frustrations and the negative organizational culture that defined the “failed experiment” verdict.

What we need in the future Bangsamoro government are people with eudaemonic frame of mind, who are cause-oriented, selfless, fulsome in their deeds and able (not just willing!) to sideline and sacrifice personal, familial, clan and ethnic gain in the pursuit of higher altruism, i.e. the Bangsamoro’s collective happiness.

At the individual and attitudinal level, the real challenge though is how to determine and recruit and vote for those with eudaemonic thinking. In short, how do we have less of hedonic individuals and more of the eudaemonic individuals in our governance and politics? The OECD’s Guidelines on Measuring of Subjective Well-being is “to measure people’s quality of life is fundamental when assessing the progress of societies”[4] and includes three elements:

  • Life evaluation—a reflective assessment on a person’s life or some specific aspect of it.
  • Affect—a person’s feelings or emotional states, typically measured with reference to a particular point in time.
  • Eudaimonia—a sense of meaning and purpose in life, or good psychological functioning.[5]

While this is to measure people’s state of happiness and wellbeing, it is also important that those leading the people should be deeply reflective of their position, that lingering affect for people remains authentic rather than artificially constructed for political expediency, and importantly, that eudaemonic sense of purpose, passion and perseverance.

At the collective, social and cultural level, the current markers for collective happiness and wellbeing defined by the 2017 World Happiness Index includes social support, healthy life expectancy at birth, freedom to make life choices, generosity, and perception of corruption[6]. Thus, governance or good governance is not enough. It is what government can provide, create and hinder:

How can the Bangsamoro government provide social support and security? Assure quality health system across life stages? Provide spaces to exercise rights and freedoms?

What can the Bangsamoro government undertake to be felt by its people as benevolent and generous? What can be done to minimize graft and corruption?

Interestingly, this line on corruption echoes the Pillars of Positive Peace[7], saying that low levels of corruption can enhance confidence and trust in institutions.

Finally, as expounded in the OECD Guidelines on Measuring Subjective Well-Being[8], happiness and wellbeing are largely determined by income, health status, social contact, employment, personality type and culture. How far the incoming Bangsamoro government is able to deliver on these matters is a much-anticipated event among its champions, articulators, backers, advocates, supporters and partisans. We are hopeful, it can, In Sha Allah (God willing).

[1] “What’s Your Definition of Happiness?”- https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-addiction-connection/201506/whats-your-definition-happiness

[2][2] Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index – http://ophi.org.uk/policy/national-policy/gross-national-happiness-index/

[3] Ibid

[4] “OECD Guidelines on Measuring Subjective Well-being” – http://www.oecd.org/statistics/oecd-guidelines-on-measuring-subjective-well-being-9789264191655-en.htm

[5] Chapter 2 – The Social Foundations of World Happiness of the 2017 World Happiness Index – https://s3.amazonaws.com/happiness-report/2017/HR17-Ch2.pdf

[6] “Regressions to Explain Average Happiness across Countries” – https://s3.amazonaws.com/happiness-report/2017/HR17-Ch2.pdf

[7] Eight Pillars of Positive Peace – http://economicsandpeace.org/report/positive-peace-report-2015/positive-peace-report-2015-2/

[8] OECD Guidelines on Measuring Subjective Well-Being – http://www.oecd.org/statistics/guidelines-on-measuring-subjective-well-being.htm

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