Are Brazilians Happy? On the The Economist Blog

The link above goes to blog post and hundreds of comments.  It is a fun but rather frustrating read.  Although Brazil ranks in the mid range on human development scales (those measures of basic needs met in education, sanitation, health and security), Brazil always ranks high in happiness surveys done by the media.  The Economist blog questions how Brazilians can feel optimistic though the economy has slowed.   From a Gallup survey with a binary response, the Economist magazine jumped to the conclusion that Brazilians are happy and sought to explain this happiness.  Comments on the blog (many from media junkies and wonks) pretty much took up sides on the happy/nonhappy scale which to me is really a false argument.  Roughly, the comments divide between the optimists and pessimists and they pretty much marshal all the pertinent ideas that have been noted by academics and generally reported, however superficially, in the press.

On the positive side, there is praise for the success of the income transfer program (bolsa familia), Brazil’s low unemployment, its growth in the first 10 years of the 21st century and the expectation that it will return.  There are anecdotes about waiters buying cars and home and sending their children to the university.  Of course, there are the cliches about beautiful women, beaches and cordiality of the Brazilian culture.  The pessimists refute pretty much everything and point out the bureaucracy, the inflation, the high cost of living, the illusory nature of statistics as well as the still rampant crime and lack of personal security.  All of this is couched in terms of the obligatory references to the World Cup and Olympics.  Everyone is so proud and then at the same time so critical.  Imagine na Copa!!! as the expression goes.

Happiness is an illusory thing to measure and grasp.  Subjectivity is paramount and things can change from moment to moment.  In all my years in Brazil, I have tried to keep my balance and avoid what I personally see as the Brazilian tendency to fall to one extreme or the other of the spectrum, i.e. estamos na fossa (we are at the bottom of the pit) or estamos no auge do carnaval (we are at the height of carnival).

Well it is May and today is Mother’s Day both in Brazil and the United States, so ……draw your conclusion.

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