Thailand – where ‘least miserable’ does not equate to ‘most happy’

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I don’t want to get into semantics here but, as the heading suggests, it seems that a country being “least miserable” on this earth is not the same as saying it is the “most happy”.

If, like me, you are sitting there over your first coffee of the day wondering what the difference is, I can only explain that it depends on whose statistics you are reading.

You see, in research carried out by the Bloomberg organisation, Thailand is ranked bottom of their Misery Index covering more than 60 countries – a good thing, meaning the country’s citizens are the least miserable.

Of course, it is possible to not be miserable, yet, not happy. It’s called “bored”.

But,given my simplistic view on life, I took not being miserable to mean being happy.

Wrong!

At least according to the Sustainable Development Solutions Network – a United Nations-backed organisation which has been going for half a dozen years.

Each year, they take it upon themselves to try to gauge how happy we all are by producing a World Happiness Report (WHR).

In this year’s report Thailand ranks 46, down from 32 in 2017. The report covers 156 countries so the Land of Smiles is still in the top third. But maybe the smiles are wearing off a little.

 

 

 

 

The WHR report ranks countries on six criteria – income, freedom, trust, healthy life expectancy, social support and generosity.

You can understand that Thailand might be marked down in some of those areas.

Meanwhile, the Bloomberg ‘misery’ research is based on low levels of inflation and unemployment.

Cynic might say that, given there is no welfare state to fall back on in Thailand, it is little wonder that unemployment is low. But there is no shortage of other countries in a similar position employment-wise, so let’s not be too churlish.

Back with the WHR report, it is clear that if you want to be happy you should live in a Scandinavian country.

In the happiness index they score as follows:

1 Finland
2 Norway
3 Denmark
4 Iceland
9 Sweden

Pretty impressive, huh?

All five in the top 10. So, I ask myself why does one come across so many natives of those countries who have “escaped” to Thailand.

Anything to do with the weather do you think?

 

 

 

 

In terms of WHR rankings in East Asia, Thailand is beaten by Taiwan (26), Singapore (34) and Malaysia (35). Behind Thailand is Japan (54), South Korea (57),Vietnam (95) and neighbours Myanmar at a very lowly 130.

My reading of the tea leaves is – could be a lot better, but could be a lot worse for Thailand.

A personal view is that most Thais strike me as being fairly happy but I find it difficult to predict which way the pendulum will swing in future.

What would make Thais a whole lot happier?

Better wages, stable government, support from the state when they hit a rough patch?

All sound good but would they be “happier”?

I believe Thais are becoming increasingly unhappy with their lot and Westerners must take a share of the blame.

I know it’s a sweeping generalisation but many of the Thais I know are afflicted by the love of “brands”.

If a commodity has the right label on it, they want it – a Western trait we have exported in the past 20 years or so.

Another of our “exports” is obesity.

I started coming to Thailand at the turn of the millennium. Then, my perception was that the majority of Thais were a normal size, bordering on being skinny. That’s not my perception now.

Westerners have added foods like bread and cheese to the Thai diet.

 

 

When did the Thais start drinking wine?

As I say, I think we have something to answer for.

At its most basic, I believe Westerners have helped develop a culture in Thailand of “wanting more”.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

A youngster brought up in Issan may well have gotten used to having no hot running water, no flushing toilets, no fridge in the kitchen.

If these have become things of the past, then great. I don’t much care to visit my wife’s home in Korat because of the lack of these conveniences. I did sort out the fridge, but all I ever see in it nowadays is water.

Maybe I’m missing the point.

 

 

But “wanting more” increases discontent and I can’t see that letting up any time soon – if ever.

Perhaps it would help if the Thai authorities were to take a tour of the Scandinavian countries to discover what makes them happier.

In Finland, they would find that this happy nation is taxed very heavily. I quote from the internet: The Personal Income Tax Rate in Finland stands at 51.60 percent.

You didn’t misread that. More than half of income goes to the state. Doesn’t sound like a recipe for happiness to me.

But there are benefits to having a tax regime such as that. Education of a very high standard is free. Salaries are high – they need to be given all that tax. Social security is on the generous side. Family benefits – especially for maternity care – are great. Finland has been voted the No 1 place in the world to be a mum.

Can I see the Thais accepting more than half of their wages disappearing in tax?

That was a rhetorical question.

Is slipping down the world’s happiness table a cause for concern? I think it is. Is being the least miserable a source of joy? It should be, but only if it manifests itself as happiness.

I’ll raise a glass (of wine!) to the concept that Thailand will be happier in the future.

By Dave Buckley

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