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By: Christopher Boyce

I’d been writing about wellbeing for years. In fact, I’d published loads on the subject; an ‘expert’ you might say. Yet, the really curious thing was that when I thought about my own life, how I spent my time (mostly working), whether I had neighbours I could rely upon (eerily quiet stairwells), my health (OK, but I needed much more fresh air), I didn’t feel very content with how things had turned out. Sure, I did well at “the job”, achieved a lot and got paid more than enough. But those things don’t really matter all that much – much as my own research into understanding the links between money and happiness kept telling me.

When it came to wellbeing, I knew a lot and I could talk a good talk, but behind all of that, I wasn’t living the way I needed to feel fulfilled. In a society that cares more for profit than people, that is a difficult thing for any of us to do. 

My decision to quit my comfortable but not very happy life, and head out into the world on my bicycle, wasn’t an easy one. Sadly, making choices that fulfil us on a deeper level is rarely made easy. I was hoping that my bicycle would take me to places where they were finding other ways to live, that didn’t involve growing the economy ever larger. This was a journey that from top to tail, was centred around wellbeing – how I travelled, where I went, and who I encountered. Eventually, I was hoping that the end point of my journey would be when my bicycle and I would reach Bhutan, the country famous for its use of happiness to guide its national policy.

In the end, I cycled a good way up most of the Americas (from Argentina to Canada), before journeying to Bhutan via South East Asia – 25 countries and 20,000 km of pedalling. 

A huge chunk of my journey was spent in Latin America. Nearly 10 months – far longer than I had anticipated, yet the places I passed through there, were so inspiring and inviting.

Day 23: In Uruguay – fresh but nervous about the long road ahead.

In terms of how much people laugh and smile throughout the day, it is in Latin American countries where this is the highest in the world. The wellbeing they have is relational – that is, their wellbeing is grounded in relationships and the community – rather than in continuous, and often endless, achievement. Their wealth resides in their connections with one another and on countless occasions I was extended the most touching hospitality. It is an innate human need to give, and Latin Americans certainly haven’t lost the art of doing that. In the materialistic profit-orientated mainstream economy, there is such an extreme focus on getting and taking, often at the expense of others, that our wellbeing inevitably suffers.

Day 80: Up in the Andes. It was a simple, humble life that often had me touching the divine and feeling deeply fulfilled.
Day 134: Ecuador. Passing the Southern hemisphere into the Northern hemisphere.

The country that stands out the most in Latin America from a wellbeing perspective, is Costa Rica. Having heard so much about Costa Rica over the years, it was a joy to be there on my bicycle. It is uncanny that Costa Rica outperforms the United States on life expectancy (81.0 versus 79.1 years), democracy (a full democracy versus a flawed democracy), and population life evaluation (7.1 out of 10 versus 6.9). This is all despite having an average income more than three times smaller than in the United States. 

Day 247: A happy little village in Guatemala. Happiness the relational way.

During my time there, I met with Costa Rican government officials. They told me that their way of life has come about because Costa Rica made crucial policy decisions – high investment in health and education in the 50s/60s, as well as environmental protections in the 80s. What I loved about Costa Rica is that there is a national pride in living a simple, yet happy, relational lifestyle – they refer to it as the “pura vida”. I remember with fondness camping for days on end, watching the waves crash on beaches, and getting a taste of that “pura vida” for myself – no rushing, just being.

Another stand out country on my journey was Canada. Their national index of wellbeing is pushing the frontiers of going beyond measures of GDP – as the director of the index explained to me, when I met up with him. Not only was their index developed with citizen consultation, but it also has direct links to policy and is useful at the local and regional level. 

I was surprised I got as far as Canada. It wasn’t an easy journey and had been deeply challenging in places – from a dog bite in South America early in the journey, to crushing loneliness in North America – and in all honesty, by the time I reached Canada, I was ready to give up on Bhutan and come home.

As much as the journey was centred around arriving in that curious country, I’d long figured out that my own happiness wasn’t dependent upon me arriving there.

My personal process on this journey led to me letting go of achievement and being more present and compassionate in my approach to life, much like how the most inspiring people I met on my journey lived. They tended to be the happiest people I met too.

It was in Canada that lots of people I didn’t know started becoming interested in this journey of mine. It seemed that because I’d gotten this far, others thought I could genuinely make it to Bhutan. I got a new lease of life and I journeyed on through to Asia. It was in India where I was my happiest by far.

Day 500: Many curious and friendly souls in India.

Not only was I, after 18 months of cycling, excitably close to Bhutan, but I was well looked after by the countless people I met there. And I still can’t forget the happiness I felt two weeks earlier, when I was in neighbouring Sikkim, looking at mountains that might well have been Bhutanese mountains.

Day 508: Bhutanese Mountains. Finally arrived and feeling happy.

In Bhutan, it is dekyid that policymakers are trying to preserve and protect. Dekyid translates to happiness in English, but it means much more than that. It actually is more akin to peace and tranquillity. And in Bhutan, they aren’t ready to sacrifice it for the sake of a bigger economy. Though it has to be said that as a subsistence economy, there would perhaps be some benefits to economic growth there.

Yet, Bhutan is growing its economy in a way that is aligned with their own unique values. Such development takes time, but it is necessary. 

Day 511: Finally at the Tiger’s Nest Monastery in Bhutan on International Day of Happiness, 20th March 2019.

There is a lot to learn from countries like Costa Rica, Canada, and Bhutan. They’re not perfect, no country is. But, the stand out features are that they are cultivating ways of life that haven’t been prescribed by the globalisation agenda. By the time I arrived in Bhutan, I had so much I wanted to incorporate into my life when I returned home. I couldn’t wait to get more involved in wellbeing conversations. In fact, when I set out for Bhutan, the Wellbeing Economy Alliance didn’t exist. But I’d watched as it gathered steam whilst I was away, and I couldn’t wait to come back and be a part of it.

Even though I quit a respectable job to take what was quite an absurd journey, people seem to value what I have to say a little more than before. It is one thing to research wellbeing, but quite another to live and breathe it. 

Christopher Boyce is an Honorary Research Fellow at the Stirling Management School, University of Stirling and a member of the World Wellbeing Panel. His research has explored how the economy contributes to individual and national happiness and wellbeing. Three years ago, he left academia to go on his cycling pilgrimage to Bhutan and is currently writing a book based on that journey, tentatively titled, ‘A Journey for Happiness’.

You can listen to Christopher speaking about his journey on BBC’s Fixing the World podcast: A Happier Planet.

Connect with Christopher on Twitter: @drhappyboyce; his website and sign up for book updates here.

Wellbeing Economy Correspondents is a series highlighting the firsthand experiences of individuals who have witnessed Wellbeing Economy principles, practices and policies being implemented in all different contexts around the world. Our correspondents support WEAll’s mission to establish that a Wellbeing Economy is not only a desirable goal, but also an entirely viable one.

By Arhum Amer

Urdu is spoken as a first language by nearly 70 million people and as a second language by more than 100 million people, predominantly in Pakistan[i]. Urdu is a language full of beauty and grace, a language that seems to have been custom-built for literature, a language that adds meaning to prose and charm to poetry.

In this language, the literal translation of ‘wellbeing’ would be خیریت ‘khair-iyat’.

A ‘Wellbeing Economy’ would be referred to as خوشحال معیشت ‘khush-haal maeeshat’

Pakistan is a country with 212 million resilient citizens, 64% of whom are under the age of 30[ii][iii]. Our founding father, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s vision for a khush-haal maeeshat is echoed by our current Prime Minister, H.E Imran Khan’s platform for a “Naya Pakistan” (meaning “New Pakistan”): a welfare country based on democratic principles, freedom and respect for every religion and ethnicity, equality between poor and rich, safety for minority groups and the accountability of public office holders.       

To understand what a Wellbeing Economy, or khush-haal maeeshat, in Pakistan would look like, it is important that we understand the environment and challenges that grip Pakistan. Being a developing country, the reforms that we dream of may seem minuscule to a citizen of the West. However, I believe every state in the world is encountering similar or comparable issues, with varying intensities; each must be addressed to truly deliver khair-iyat, for all people.

Inequality

A high level of inequality prevails in the country, with around 24% of Pakistanis living below the poverty line[iv]. Many of the country’s financial challenges stem from recently overcoming a ‘War on Terror’, which resulted in $126B USD worth of losses over 17 years and from corruption, which remains Pakistan’s biggest systemic challenge.       

The Government’s Ehsaas Kafaalat programme will provide monthly cash stipends of Rs. 2,000 and bank accounts to Pakistan’s poorest women, as well as better access to smartphones, as a step towards digital inclusion. Such programmes must be expanded to all corners of Pakistan. No country can truly progress with such a large chunk of its population living under the poverty line.    

Education

Pakistan’s constitution obligates the state to provide free education to all children until the age of 16. However, due to the low standards of Government Institutes and the prevalence of child labour, students prefer private schools or choose to stay out of school. This has led to Pakistan having the second largest out-of-school youth population in the world[v]. I believe the students of the country deserve a forward-looking curriculum with compulsory extra-curricular activities. A Wellbeing Economy in Pakistan would encompass high quality state education and enrolment of girls in schools, in areas where they are deprived of education. 

Healthcare

In Pakistan, the double burden of malnutrition is becoming increasingly apparent, with almost one in three children underweight (28.9%), while 9.5% in the same age group are overweight[vi]. Meanwhile, overcrowded cities, unsafe drinking water, inadequate sanitation, poor socioeconomic conditions, low health awareness and inadequate vaccination coverage have led to the rapid spread of communicable diseases, adding strain to the already overstretched medical facilities in the country.

Several government initiatives are underway to address these issues. For instance, the Poverty Alleviation Programme called Ehsaas Nashonuma, is a health and nutrition conditional cash transfer programme which aims to address stunting in children under 23 months of age as a pilot project in nine districts of the country. 

Pakistan has recently rolled out universal health insurance in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, with plans to expand it to Punjab, the country’s most populous province. I believe that access to the same medical facilities, for the rich and poor, would be the height of healthcare reform in the country. 

Urban Development

With its urban population growing three percent per year, Pakistanis are flocking to cities faster than any other country in South Asia[vii]. Urbanisation has inflated Pakistan’s biggest cities so rapidly that they struggle to deliver public services and create productive jobs. A disparity exists in the development of Pakistani cities: a few having 21st century facilities, others lacking basic necessities. Lahore, Pakistan’s second largest city, got its first metro train line just a couple of weeks ago, in addition to its existing Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system.

The newly functional Orange Line Metro in Lahore, 250,000 people are expected to travel on it everyday. Wikimedia Commons

However, Karachi which is the country’s financial hub and largest city, has no public transit system or Emergency Response System. The city, with an estimated nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $164 billion USD[viii], was brought to its knees in the recent monsoon rains, due to the lack of a drainage system and planned development. 

Approximately 3 feet of water can be seen on the roads of Karachi’s most expensive residential area, after torrential rains paralysed the city.

In my opinion, the way forward has to involve empowering local governments, so they can collect taxes and spend it on the specific needs of the city. Sustainable expansion of cities should be based on long-term master plans and urban development projects should focus on supporting pedestrians and cyclists, rather than only facilitating car transport. The Clean Green City Index is a helpful tool to support this development.

Climate Resilience 

Pakistan is the fifth most climate-vulnerable nation in the world[ix]. Over the past 20 years, Pakistan is estimated to have lost nearly 10,000 lives and $4 billion USD in financial losses due to climate-related disasters[x]. My vision of a Wellbeing Economy in Pakistan involves one where the country is not constantly at risk from climate catastrophes. 

Pakistan has recently launched several initiatives to create a ‘green Pakistan’ and protect our national parks and forest reserves, including “Clean Green Pakistan” and the “Protected Areas Initiative”. The “10 Billion Tree Tsunami” initiative aims to plant billions of trees across the country over the next three years, in addition to the one billion trees already planted in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The use of plastic bags has also been banned in major cities (the implementation of this ban is a different story…). 

In addition to its progress to date, my vision for a climate-friendly and climate resilient Pakistan is one that moves toward affordable and clean energy, builds green cities and emphasises recycling, water conservation, responsible consumption and production models. An important step towards this vision involves a public awareness campaign about the possible catastrophic impacts of climate change on our glaciers and water tables – and how this would impact Pakistani lives. Climate change is not just an environmental challenge, but an issue impacting our economy, human health, agriculture, and ecosystem. 

Justice

While millions of legal cases remain pending in the courts of Pakistan, religious intolerance, lack of human rights and women’s safety have become a cause for concern. My vision for a Wellbeing Economy is in line with Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s vision:

“No nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you.”

“You are free. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed—that has nothing to do with the business of the state.”

I believe that a khush-haal maeeshat in Pakistan would see policies being made to protect the vulnerable, to create an environment that supports accountability and merit, and to serve the common person instead of a handful of the wealthy. No one would be above the law. To deliver on this vision and improve law-and-order in the country, better policing, use of forensic sciences, and accountability of public office holders is needed. Punishments for harassment and rape cases must be stricter and proper prosecution of such cases must be carried out to restore safety of women in the country. An entry test along the lines of the LSATs should be introduced to ensure that our legal community consists of the brightest minds in the country. The introduction of a Witness Protection Program is also critical, especially in criminal cases, in line with the model of the U.S Witness Security Program (WITSEC). 

The Way Forward

Pakistan faces challenges on multiple fronts, from the economy to governance and education to health services. Yet, there are plenty of things I love about my country and my hope for Pakistan’s bright future, despite its problems, never dies out.  

The fact that the WHO has praised Pakistan for its brilliant handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and that Pakistan has achieved its SDG 13 (Climate Action) goal a decade ahead of the deadline, are testaments to the fact that, no matter how mammoth the challenge, having competent public office holders making decisions for the khair-iyat of the people, can be done – and pays off.  

While we may seem off course in some ways:

“With faith, discipline and selfless devotion to duty, there is nothing worthwhile that [we] cannot achieve.”

Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah

Arhum is a student of Chartered Accountancy and currently works as an audit associate at PwC Pakistan. His long-term goals include working for the betterment of the country.

References

There is not one blueprint for a Wellbeing Economy; the shape, institutions and activities that get us there will look different in different contexts, both across countries and between different communities within countries. However, the high-level goals for a Wellbeing Economy are the same everywhere: wellbeing for all, in a flourishing natural world. Visions of a Wellbeing Economy is a series highlighting voices from the diverse WEAll global network on describing their visions of what a Wellbeing Economy might look like in the context of their countries and how the meaning of the words ‘wellbeing’ and a ‘Wellbeing Economy’ in their respective language impacts this vision.