Myanmar citizens disregard wealth as a main source of happiness

The World Happiness Report 2016 reported Myanmar as one of the least happy countries the planet in March, ranking The Golden Land 119th out of 156 countries – but some in Myanmar have taken issue with the parameters.

The report measures happiness using metrics such as GDP per capita, perceived freedom to make life choices, government corruption and access to medical care. Although generosity also factored into the report, Myanmar’s international reputation as one of the most charitable countries in the world failed to raise it higher than any other Southeast Asian country save Cambodia (140th).

In a letter to the editor sent March 24, six days after The Myanmar Timesreported the news, long-time reader Dominique Savariau expressed discontent with the ranking.

“If money makes people happy, then the index is right,” she wrote. “But if you have been here a few years you will agree with me that Myanmar people are generally happy, unstressed … Time has no real impact on them, nor money.”

Daw Ohnmar Shwe, the owner of an antique shop near Bogyoke Market, both countered and confirmed Savariau’s sentiments. Though she expressed some stress about money and business, she insisted that her happiness was more focused on charity.

“Charity has always been my largest source of happiness,” she said. “In terms of business, I am not happy at all as the demand for my goods is declining recently. But festivals lighten up my mood whenever I think of donating.”

Near-monthly festivals – often corresponding with full moons and Buddhist holidays – are occasion for people here to make merit and support monasteries. More than 90 percent of the nation practices Theraveda Buddhism, which encourages dana, or generosity, to help erode craving and desire. No wonder the World Giving Index ranked Myanmar first in the world for giving in 2015: 91pc of survey respondents reported having donated in the past month.

“I am not wealthy enough to contribute to charity every month but I still donate often with the little money I earn and I am satisfied with that,” said drinks seller Daw Cherry.

She’s not alone. Myanmar’s GDP per capita is roughly US$1200 per year, making it one of the poorest nations in the world. This fact, combined with decades of harsh military rule, would seem to make the people of Myanmar as unhappy as the World Happiness Report suggests. But every person we asked refuted the claim that Myanmar people are somehow less happy than the rest of the world, pointing to donations or meditation as indicators of happy living.

A 20-year-old gem shop worker in Bogyoke Market, Ma Ngwe Ngwe Win, said, “The meditation centre is a place of peace and joy to me. I am now working just to earn money but money does not offer as much happiness as meditation would. A lot of people at the meditation centre feel the same way.”

Regardless of poor or rich, family is also a source of joy for many people. Many Yangon residents live with their parents even as they begin their own families.

“For less wealthy people like me, we work just to earn money,” said U Than Myint, a parking attendant at Bogyoke Market. “The only true happiness I enjoy in my life is when I am back at home, eating a meal and playing with my three-year-old daughter.”

The recent shift to democracy and overwhelming election of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy may soon be giving people even more to smile about. Bike taxi driver U Thit Lwin said people seem happier now that NLD loyalist U Htin Kyaw has been elected president.


Source: Myanmar Times

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