Education on how to be a happy soul
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Education on how to be a happy soul

Extreme poverty is primarily a mental phenomenon caused by the fact that we give real meaning to money.

On the most basic level, we humans need what Buddhists call the Four Requisites or four necessities of life: food and water, shelter, clothing and medical care.

The original purpose of money is thus for the convenient trading of the aforementioned assets and serves as a way to facilitate fair trade by ensuring an equal exchange.

Yet, this unconsciously creates a dangerous mental construct. Every time we buy or sell something, we affirm a shared paradigm about the value of money itself.

According to the behavioural psychologist Burrhus Frederic Skinner, money serves as a secondary reinforcer to satisfy the need for primary reinforcers (eg: food and clothing).

However, nowadays, money arguably serves as a primary reinforcer. We often feel proud and satisfied directly when we possess money, rather than when we possess the four necessities of life.

Instead of selecting jobs based on how we can make a unique and meaningful contribution to the world, we tend to choose the ones with the highest pay. This is indeed problematic! Money is not real. It only seems like it is.

Our culture would have us develop systematic patterns of thought that equate to the amount of money with worth and quality. We unconsciously perceive people who are paid less as literally worthless.

Our eyes are thus fixated on social class and comparisons (eg: the rich and the poor, the full and the hungry).

Agricultural workers are often paid small amounts of money despite their role in providing for our basic needs. Yet, without them, others would be naked and hungry.

There must be a value change in our society. In resolving some of the challenges to end extreme poverty, it is best for us to generate real value that could better sustain humanity, that is, to "get the system to operate around real values" -- to borrow the American environmental scientist and educator Donella Meadows' expression.

As an educator, I propose that we put forth a happiness framework for guiding our global development.

The idea comes from the new economic indicator, Gross National Happiness (GNH), which was first introduced by the former King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, in 1972.

Happiness here refers to an inner feeling or a state of satisfaction and contentment. I believe global equity can be achieved under this framework.

1) Happiness does not compete! True happiness starts from within. Thus, everyone can create and possess it. Happiness can be distributed and shared widely on a mass scale.

2) The concept of happiness should follow poor people's definition of poverty as a lack of assets to social capital and environmental resources and a sense of vulnerability, which has less to do with income. That is to say, happiness brings hope and vice versa, and can potentially lift individuals out of poverty.

3) Happiness and suffering -- whether or not associated with poverty -- are an indivisible whole. They are two sides of the same coin. Focusing on happiness, thus, indirectly addresses the issues of poverty. Happiness and suffering are equally important for all of us human beings.

However, from the bottom up, the happiness framework would only be effective when individuals realise the aforementioned facts of life.

We could accomplish this through both formal and informal education. A framework for 22nd century learning would include the happiness skill, ways to deliver the skill (ie: curriculum and instruction) and how to assess them (ie: assessment).

The education needs to be designed in such a way that allows learners to experience and think about these facts themselves.

Finally, they will learn that happiness can be a choice, and the pure form of happiness comes from bringing happiness to others or alleviating others' suffering. Seeing others happy is more valuable than having a great deal of money.

Can you now understand how this could solve "many interconnected and overlapping causes behind extreme poverty", such as political corruption, the rise of crime and suicide, violence and war and even the fact that the combined wealth of the hundred richest people in the world is equal to the total wealth of the few billions of poorest people?

I believe happiness is a skill that needs to be developed. Happiness will contribute to a radical change of hearts and minds, which can safeguard progress towards sustainable development.

Happiness might be the next major global revolution capable of eradicating extreme poverty. A world without frontiers requires hearts without borders.

Sara Samiphak is an assistant professor at the Faculty of Education, Chulalongkorn University.

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