How is it that a relatively small country (population 28 million), with a Gross National Product (GNP) one-fourth that of the United States ($12,000 vs. $47,000 in 2011 figures) could, as measured by Gallup's global survey, surpass the U.S. in the happiness of its citizens?
Denmark, Sweden, Canada, Australia were the top ranked, with Venezuela and Finland tying for fifth place. The U.S. placed twelfth. Chad was in last place in the survey.
Gallup found that:
Majorities of residents in 19 countries -- mostly in Europe and the Americas -- rated their lives well enough to be classified this way. Denmark, along with Sweden (69%) and Canada (69%), led the list, which is largely dominated by more developed and wealthier nations, as expected given the links between wellbeing and GDP. The U.S. falls somewhat near the middle of the pack, with 59% of Americans thriving.Writing as an American who has lived in Venezuela for the last five years, I'm not at all surprised by the seeming anomaly that Venezuelans are very happy people. Having left Hawaii, where it took me over $3,500 a month to meet my mortgage, utilities, healthcare and other basic expenses by working an average of 50 to 60 hours a week in the always grueling and often bellicose profession of trial lawyering, I came to Venezuela to teach English, where I have been living modestly well on less than $500 dollars a month ever since.
I can attest that happiness is not to be found simply in the pursuit of dollars. I am much happier here, freed of the constant awareness of the increasingly brutal police state which the U.S. has become.
Although one of the goals of the U.S. Declaration of Independence was to free its citizens from British domination in order to exercise their "Inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. After succeeding in their revolution against British rule, our founders established a Constitution in which they gave their new government the tasks to promote justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. (Preamble to U.S. Constitution.)
The Venezuelan Constitution of 1999 (English translation at http://venezuela-us.org/...), written under the auspices of the newly elected Hugo ChÃvez FriÃ¡s administration, and passed by an over-whelming majority of Venezuelan voters, gave its government the purposes of:
the protection and development of the individual and respect for the dignity of the individual, the democratic exercise of the will of the people, the building of a just and peace-loving society, the furtherance of the prosperity and welfare of the people and the guaranteeing of the Fulfillment of the principles, rights and duties established in this Constitution. Education and work are the fundamental processes for guaranteeing these.
Today, in the dark shadow cast by the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision to permit the wholesale intrusion into the most personal repository of human dignity, our naked bodies, by police, jail and prison officials, routine body cavity searches of our naked bodies for any citizen who wonders into their clutches, however innocently, for such things as leash law violations or broken tail lights, the call of the Venezuelan Constitution for governmental "respect for the dignity of the individual" stands out to me as perhaps the defining characteristic of a free and truly civilized society.
As a child of six or seven years old in the 1950's, I recall how appalled I was to watch documentaries showing hundreds of Nazis prisoners, stripped naked, being marched into gas chambers in Germany during the Second World War. Somehow, their nakedness, that evidence of having been stripped of their human dignity, was more appalling to me than the fact they were being marched into the death chambers.
The U.S. Supreme Court's so casual discarding of the human dignity of potentially millions of innocent Americans had exactly the same affect up me as those German documentaries. With such disregard for basic human dignity, the U.S. has discarded the very purposes for which our revolution was fought and our Constitution established.
But, aside from the fact that Venezuela does not permit the wholesale stripping of human dignity of their citizens, what else accounts for the fact that Venezuelan citizens report being the 5th happiest in the world? And how did Gallup's measure their happiness?
Gallup's World Survey used the the Cantril Self-Anchoring Scale, developed by social researcher, Dr. Hadley Cantril. Its format consists of the following:
Please imagine a ladder with steps numbered from zero at the bottom to 10 at the top.(From "understanding-gallup-uses-cantril-scale".
The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you.
On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time? (ladder-present)
On which step do you think you will stand about five years from now? (ladder-future)
See also Hart: For a discussion of Gallup's definition of "well-being".)
Thriving -- wellbeing that is strong, consistent, and progressing. These respondents have positive views of their present life situation (7+) and have positive views of the next five years (8+). They report significantly fewer health problems, fewer sick days, less worry, stress, sadness, anger, and more happiness, enjoyment, interest, and respect.(See Jim Harter, op.cit.)
Struggling -- wellbeing that is moderate or inconsistent. These respondents have moderate views of their present life situation OR moderate OR negative views of their future. They are either struggling in the present, or expect to struggle in the future. They report more daily stress and worry about money than the "thriving" respondents, and more than double the amount of sick days. They are more likely to smoke, and are less likely to eat healthy.
Suffering -- wellbeing that is at high risk. These respondents have poor ratings of their current life situation (4 and below) AND negative views of the next five years (4 and below). They are more likely to report lacking the basics of food and shelter, more likely to have physical pain, a lot of stress, worry, sadness, and anger. They have less access to health insurance and care, and more than double the disease burden, in comparison to "thriving" respondents.
Let's look at Venezuela's 5th top score in light of the possible impacts on its respondents from a macro perspective.
The 1999 Venezuelan Constitution provides Venezuelans with the right to health care, the right to adequate housing, the right to adequate food, the right to work and bargain collectively, as well as the right to equality of access to these services, for all citizens, regardless of ethnic background, age, sex or physical mental in-capacities.
The Chavez government has implemented these rights by a massive investment in social programs, called Missions, to insure that it fulfills its constitutional duties to provide them.
Illiteracy which was widespread in the population when President Chavez was first elected in 1998, has virtually been abolished through sending cadres of teachers throughout the country to teach basic reading and writing. Literacy is now at the 98% mark. But teaching all its citizens to read and write was merely the first step in the government's plan to provide free access to education for its citizens.
The massive literacy program was amplified by additional Missions to provide elementary and high school educations to those who previously hadn't completed that level. Hundreds of new universities have been established, many having open enrollment policies for non-traditional students, which have allowed millions to access high education at no cost to themselves, while they receive stipends to supplement income lost while attending classes. Indeed, all public universities are free and all public university students receive those stipends.
Venezuela now has the second highest enrollment figure in higher education for South and Central America, second only to Cuba.. The average for all South and Central American countries was 29% (2009).
Technical educational programs are available to those wishing to learn basic trade skills. A new Mission, "Saber and Trabajo" (Knowledge and Work) has enrolled hundreds of thousands of citizens into training programs which will lead to jobs in the agricultural, industrial, educational and public service sectors.
This training program into new jobs will not only improve the skills and living standards of the individual workers involved, but will help to build the new, diversified economy that the country needs to escape reliance solely on its oil production revenues and to provide for all its citizens needs and wants. New factories for plastic fabrication, generic pharmaceuticals, cars, bicycles and motorcycles and advanced technologies, such as computers and telecommunications equipment are being constructed. (The government recently distributed its new, internet capable, Caima laptop computer to all students from the second grade up.)
The government has created a vast system of low cost "Mercalsâ" which provide basic food necessities are extremely low cost throughout the country, supplemented by government run "Comedors" or low cost public restaurants, where a three course meal can be had for less than a dollar. These programs are augmented by periodic "food fairs" in local neighborhoods, where special foods such as fish for Easter and the fixings for Christmas dinner are conducted at prices far below the private markets.
After devastating flooding took the homes of many Venezuelans in 2010 and 2011, the government not only paid for temporary accommodations for the homeless, but commenced a Mission Vivienda or housing mission, initiating the construction of a projected two million new homes for those dispossessed through flooding and for those without otherwise adequate housing.
Many of those now training in the "Saber y Trabajo" Mission will not only be working to build those homes, but will benefit by being able to live in them, as a result of government-subsidized, low interest loans and outright grants.
The 1999 Constitution provides a right to work, and the existing labor laws are, by statute, to be interpreted in favor of the workers, whose right to unionization and collective bargaining is guaranteed. A new comprehensive labor law is in the process of being discussed throughout the country, with input and proposals from more than 90,000 workers and workers' groups as well as the private sector employers and organizations. It is likely that the new law will reduce the working day from eight hours to seven hours. Workers already have guaranteed vacations of two to four weeks per year, with a Christmas bonus of one month's salary as a national law.
The Chavez government has long supported the idea of reducing the working day to six hours to enable the work force to have the time to attend their children's school activities and to, themselves, participate in educational and community activities. This has been widely opposed by many of the private employers and their organizations, the segment that forms the heart of the right-wing opposition to Chavez's socialist government.
The Chavez government has likewise created a new Mission to serve the special needs of senior citizens and those having mental or physical incapacities. The Mission "En Amor Mayorâ" conducted a national census of the needs of its seniors and those with incapacities and has inaugurated many free programs to meet those needs, including home doctors visits, assisted living facilities, hospice care, and many personal services, such as repair of major household problems, such as leaking roofs and electrical and plumbing defects at government expense.
These services to seniors and the incapacitated are in addition to the extension of social security payments to those who would not otherwise qualify, through previous formal work credits, for these monthly payments which are equal to the current minimum wage for workers.
Similar monthly payments are provided to single mothers who lack other regular income and to the families of children who have incapacities.
All Venezuelans have the benefit of universal health care services, including dental and optical services, with optical examinations and free glasses provided at least once a year. All cancer treatment and drugs are free, as are drugs for major chronic problems.
Venezuela has done all this for its people while expanding its citizen's opportunities to participate in the democratic decision-making process, at a neighborhood level with community councils (consejo comunals) , town, state and national level, which allows all to feel that they have a say in the decisions affecting their lives. The Chavez government has created a reliable and auditable electoral system, with numerous safeguards.
While our U.S. Constitution mandates that our government "provide for the general welfare" of our U.S. citizens, the Venezuelan government has put that concept into concrete practice by investing billions of dollars (in the form of its Bolivar currency) into programs which provide its citizens with their basic needs of food, housing, work, health care and education without which no citizen can be free to truly develop his or her skills and creative capacities to pursue either happiness as individuals or as a community of citizens.
Venezuela has provided all these basic preconditions for human freedom for its people while expanding its citizen's opportunities to participate in the democratic decision-making process at the grass-roots level. While these new programs have not necessarily caused the "happiness" of its citizens, they have created an atmosphere wherein optimism about the present and the future permeate the general spirit.
Venezuela has by no means reached a state of perfection in its socialist goals, but being the fifth happiness country in the world is certainly a measure of progress! While the U.S. State Department and its puppet media voices would have Americans believe that Venezuela is a nasty, violent country living under a "strong man" dictator in order to deter them from considering this socialist alternative, the reality is the that Venezuela's peaceful revolution against capitalist inhumanity, exploitation and disrespect for human dignity, is improving the lives of its citizens on a daily basis.
And this revolution dances! Joyous salsa music is the ubiquitous backdrop in the streets around my apartment, along with frequent playing of the superb national anthem. Hear the music at: http://www.youtube.com/.... Read the lyrics, in Spanish and English, at: http://www.kbears.com/...