Finland Rated World’s Happiest Country

What better way to kick off the International Day of Happiness than with the latest results of World Happiness Report, conducted annually by the United Nations. This year’s top spot went to Finland, which climbed five places to unseat longtime placeholder Norway (which is still an enviable second). Continue reading

Let Children Be Children

[We] don’t have faith in young children. And we don’t really have faith in ourselves. And we’ve been programmed to believe that the more enrichments we can add on [the better].

I think boredom can be a friend to the imagination. Sometimes when kids appear to be bored, actually they haven’t had enough time to engage in something. We quickly whisk it away and move them along to the next thing. And that’s when you say, “How can I help the child to look at this in a new way? To try something new, to be patient.”

You’ve really kind of adultified childhood so kids really don’t have those long, uninterrupted stretches of time to engage in fantasy play. And because we’ve kind of despoiled the habitat of early childhood, a lot of times they don’t know what to do when given that time. So we kind of have to coach them.

I think there’s a little bit of a repair process that we need to engage in. Because if you’ve got a kid who’s used to going to a million lessons and only uses toys that have one way of using them and then, suddenly, you put them in a room with a bunch of boxes and blocks and say, “Have fun!”, the kid’s gonna say, “Are you kidding me? What?!”

— Erika Christakis, in an interview by NPR’s Corey Turner,
What Kids Need From Grown-Ups (But Aren’t Getting)”

Work Ethic and Weather

While most people believe a propensity for hard-work and high productivity stems from how one is raised – the values that are imparted to them by parents and the community – there are many other surprising influences on the work ethic and success of an individual or society.

One that has been discussed at length is religion, with a common claim being that Christianity in general, and Protestantism in particular, encourage greater endeavor in labor, education, and other pursuits (this has seemingly been validated by how wealthy and developed most Western, predominately Christian countries are, though this may be a confusion of correlation and causation).

The Economist published an interesting article exploring the relationship between faith, religiosity, and work ethic (unsurprisingly like most social studies, its conclusions were quite complex).

…contemplating Greece’s economic woes, it is easy to dream up some theory that connects Orthodox Christianity (and its comparatively charitable attitude to human weakness) with corruption or cronyism. Orthodoxy has a less pessimistic view of “original sin” than the Christian West—and its prayers for the dead emphasise “no man lives who does not sin”. Does that imply winking at misdeeds? Possibly—but then try explaining why Greek-Americans, who are at least as devout as their motherland kin, do so very well in business, education and public service. The plausible reason lies in America’s institutions which make it easier to prosper in an honest way.

Intriguingly, research on Turkey’s devoutly Muslim heartland finds a strong positive link between Islamic piety and capitalist success. The term “Islamic Calvinist” has been used to describe the devout businessmen of central Turkey, who use religious networks to accumulate capital and extend their activities. Of course, none of this proves anything about how Muslim beliefs make people behave. Like all great religions, Islam is a complex system of beliefs, and people usually emphasise the features which appeal to them. Turkey’s pious producers like the bits in the Koran that favour honest trading. Yet Timur Kuran, a professor at America’s Duke University, argues that the inheritance rules in Islamic family law may have slowed development in the past by making it harder to accumulate wealth. If that is true, then modern Turkey may provide a uniquely favourable arena: secular law combined with the diligence and sobriety (in several senses) of Muslim Calvinists. Mr Kuran’s latest research looks at India over the last two centuries. He thinks the poor-ish showing of Muslim businessmen reflects Hindu practices that allow the build-up of family wealth, while Islam dissipates it by mandating legacies to distant kin. This gap emerged under the Raj, and seems to persist in modern India where different faiths still use different family law.

One problem, says Mr Kuran, is that religiously-inspired institutions change more slowly than religious dogma. Even text-based creeds, based on one-off divine revelation, can be quite flexible in reacting to new economic circumstances. But the world of Islam, in his view, has been held back by institutions like the waqf, a sort of Islamic charity which people sometimes use to create jobs for their families. In the end, laws and institutions seem to make more difference to people’s worldly chances than the arcana of theology

But what was even more intriguing was a response to the article by a fellow reader and posted in the following issue. It postulates another dynamic altogether: climate.

Having read your article on economics and religion, I’d like to propose the weather as an historical indicator of a nation’s work ethic and prosperity.
If Britain enjoyed warm temperatures and 300 days of sun a year, would its people so easily accept enclosing themselves in a workshop, factory, or office for eight or so house every weekday, even if it led to increase prosperity?
If the Greeks woke up four days out of five to find the sun was nowhere to be seen, with rain and wind more probable, would they still opt for leisurely lunches on patios, noontime naps, and short working days? One [might] as well stay inside and work, there’s little else to do.
How would this two countries’ economic destinies be different today had they gone through history with the other’s weather patterns?

Indeed, there is an interesting correlation between the greater economic troubles that bedevil Mediterranean countries (with their notably pleasant weather), and the relatively more stable conditions of the cooler, wetter north (which include the famously well-off Scandinavian nations). During the past couple of centuries, Northern Europe has generally been more developed, industrial, and prosperous than its Southern portion, a pattern also occurring concurrently in the United States.  

A similar dynamic can be seen on a global scale as well. During my studies of International Relations, I once noticed how the majority of the world’s poor countries were tropical or sub-tropical – going down a list of the least developed nations, one will find that most of them are located in the sweltering and humid regions of Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America.

In places with pleasant weather, like the Mediterranean, society and culture moves at a slower pace. As the excerpt noted, people enjoy more leisurely pursuits and have less motivation to work. In more debilitating climates, like tropical ones, the combination of heat, humidity, and stormy weather makes work far more unpleasant or untenable – try building a road or putting up a building in that kind of environment (this may partly explain why slavery was more strongly rooted in the Southern United States, the Caribbean, and South America).

Temperate regions, by definition, lie somewhere in-between: not so enjoyable as to merit a more relaxed attitude to work, but not harsh enough to make labor difficult or unpleasant. Thus, most relatively wealthy countries lie in the moderate climates of the north and south hemispheres, while most of the poorer states are located tropical/subtropical middle, closer to the equator.

Of course, like most broad dynamics, there are a lot of outliers and caveats to keep in mind, to say nothing of the old problem of confusing correlation with causation. But this theory still makes for an interesting consideration, especially as it advances a growing trend within various fields of study: that external, deterministic factors form nearly every aspect human existence.