By Naoko Takasu
As a development practitioner coming from a high-income country but not one of the happiest countries, I have been interested in learning how we could make countries ‘developed’ and people happier at the same time. Then, I encountered a book on this topic by Stefano Bartolini translated from Italian into Japanese but does not yet seem to be translated in English. This is a very brief summary of the book I translated from Japanese into English.
Prof. Bartolini’s “Manifesto for Happiness – from a consumer society to a relationship-rich society”
The book talks about paradox that economic prosperity will not necessarily bring happiness, as materialism causes people lose social capital by reducing time and physical and emotional space to nurture personal and social relationships. Materialism places an importance on extrinsic motivation (e.g. money, consumer goods, economic success) and ignores intrinsic motivation (e.g. friendship, solidarity,
social responsibility). The book touches upon ‘defensive growth’ which occurs as a result of market economy making consumers buy goods and services in order to compensate no-longer-available common assets which used to be freely available. For example, you fly to a resort where you can enjoy clean air and beautiful sea, because you live in a polluted city. You buy home entertainment for children because it is dangerous to play outside.
The author proposes a post-materialism society and presents several policy options to improve quality of lives. The book suggests creating a society focusing on relationship, such as creation of ‘relationship-rich cities’ where residents can walk around or use bicycles and public transport by limiting entry of vehicles. Those cities have playgrounds, parks, sport facilities, sidewalks besides river, sea, or lake rather than shopping malls which promotes a consumer society. It also proposes a change in educational system and school curriculum to increase time to spend outside of school, more focus on creativity, critical thinking, and innovation than ‘results-orientation for cognitive knowledge.’ In this era, countries which succeed to transform its educational system will gain a comparative advantage.
It also talks about the importance of reducing advertisement, especially banning ads for children, as it is one of the main causes of wide spread of materialism. The book calls for a change in democracy by restricting political parties’ access to mass media and reduce political parties’ expenditures so that dependency of politicians on large corporations will be reduced. It also proposes a change the way we work – it should be less stressful and more meaningful, and it should create better personal and social
relationships. The book provides real-life examples from all over the world but importantly notes that we have not yet seen a comprehensive, holistic change at a country-level.
More ideas and books
In Pakistan, I recall Nadeem ul Haque’s book “Looking back: How Pakistan became an Asia Tiger by 2050” had a section on cities, in which he recommended very similar things as Bartolini. In UK, Tim Jackson wrote “Prosperity without Growth” which I recently obtained a copy and am looking forward to reading it. In Japan, there are two authors whose books I enjoyed reading in the past 4-5 years: Ryo Yamazaki, Community Designer and Yoshinori Hiroi, Professor of Kyoto University discussing sustainable welfare society.
The original Italian version of this “Manifesto for Happiness” was published in 2010, and its Japanese version was published in July 2018 and noted that an English version with latest analysis and a focus on American readers is under preparation. As of Sept 2019, the English version does not seem to be available yet.
About the author: Naoko Takasu is a development practitioner, worked in South Asia, Middle East, Southeast Asia and now lives in Central Asia, wrote this blog at her personal capacity.