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Happiness matters

Apr 01,2018 - Last updated at Apr 01,2018

Some time ago, a Jordanian was asked why Jordanians are such terrible drivers. Now, before anyone jumps to dismiss him as unpatriotic, I hasten to mention that he is of impeccable tribal pedigree and has held many important government positions. His answer was that Jordanians are polite and friendly on a personal basis.

If two men who do not know each other come to a door at the same time, they spend a long time inviting each other to go through first, and before one of them eventually does, they will have become friends and invited each other to mansaf. But a Jordanian in a car is a proud horseman who would not allow anyone to overtake him or cross an intersection ahead of him.

This description may have been accurate in the past, but it does not explain the anger and despair with which Jordanians conduct themselves on the road and everywhere else nowadays.

There seems to prevail a feeling of hopelessness and futility that is eliminating goodwill and eroding the social fabric. The general outlook seems to be that gains made in a straight forward and honest way are too paltry to be worth the bother. Any significant gain for self and family needs to come through circuitous, often illegal means.

Jordanian society is not unique in this. The World Happiness Report 2018 focused on the social foundations of happiness by comparing the life experiences between the top and bottom ten countries in the happiness rankings.

By analysing the difference between the two groups in terms of social context, the report found that most of the differences come from social factors, such as having someone to count on, generosity, a sense of freedom and, very importantly, freedom from corruption. The rest of the difference is explained in terms of the GDP per capita and healthy life expectancy, both of which also depend on the social context, according to the report.

Jordan’s rank dropped from 74th in 2017, to 90th out of 156 countries in 2018. Something clearly needs to be done about this, and the solution is not beyond us.

For instance, people of my generation remember the time when it took months and endless heartache to renew a passport or a national ID card. Then the Civil Status Department was overhauled and the waiting time dropped to less than one hour. The same happened with the Traffic Department. 

Some government departments work very efficiently, but they tend to be those responsible for security and collecting money from the public. Still, their example shows that the same can be done with departments that provide public services.

This would not necessarily need a large budget. In fact, the government would probably save money through higher efficiency and better governance in delivering public services. This may not be sufficient to make everyone happy, but it will give Jordanians realistic grounds to hope for better times.

And after all, as Napoleon put it, leadership is all about inspiring hope.

 

alikassay@ace-house.com

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