Moving Back to Jamaica

A blog about my Move Back to Jamaica after 20+ years of living in the US. Most of the articles focus on the period from 2005-2009 when the transition was new, and at it's most challenging.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Migrating to Happiness

I am reading an entertaining book called Stumbling on Happiness, that is a smart and funny take on what makes us happy, written by a noted Harvard psychologist.

(Notice how the word "Harvard" gives him instant credibility.)

In one chapter he talks about different studies which show that more money only helps people who are the most poor, and have a hard time earning enough to provide for the basics.

Earning or having more does little for those who are in the comfortable middle class, and some studies even show that happiness declines slightly for those who are super-rich. This seems to make sense in my experience.

He goes a bit further, however, and says that it's a good thing that people don't know this. The vast majority remain quite misinformed by the popular belief that more money is always better.

In this sense, money is not like food, whose consumption is limited by the size of our stomachs. More money always seems to be better.

It is a good thing we all don't realize this fact because if we did, the capitalist systems that we rely on would collapse, or at least stagnate.

The reason is that it relies on people working very hard, and then spending a lot of what they earn on cars, houses, Xboxes and the like, all of which helps to keep the economic game going (and going and going.)

Which brings me what drives a Jamaican to migrates.

Edward Seaga, one of Jamaica's former Prime Minister's, is said to have made the point in 1962 that the island needed to export some 20,000 people per year. Whether he actually said it, is beside the point, but the idea seems to make some sense, especially if the 20,000 are among the desperately poor (and unhappy.)

The US, Canada and the UK are fine countries to migrate to for those who are very poor, as there are many, many opportunities to accumulate the DVD's, clothes and cars that make live comfortable. Failing that, there is at least welfare, which is a vast improvement over being poor in Jamaica.

For those in the middle class who migrate however, I wonder. It is the rare Jamaican middle-class person who migrates without a commitment to return home to live, as I have done.

If you are reading this from Miramar, Markham or Brixton, you may concur.

Unfortunately, I think that many middle class Jamaicans who migrate also believe that happiness increases with material success, and that use migration is a means to that end. Unfortunately, along with material success comes other drawbacks such as racism, separation from family and friends, unfamiliar climates, long working hours with little household help and the overwhelming likelihood that they will never fulfill their dream of returning.

The book says that the best predictor of future happiness happens to be other people who are undergoing the exact same situation. This means that Jamaicans who are migrating should be getting the best information about happiness and life abroad from Jamaicans who are already there. Unfortunately, this is where Jamaicans living abroad do those at home a disservice, by projecting an image of how "life sweet a farrin'" -- partly to assuage the doubts they may have about making the choice to leave.

It's just easier to make things seem sweet, and to show off new clothes and give away gifts in kind, and in cash when one returns for Christmas holidays. It is much harder to explain the need for two (or more) jobs, starting life near the bottom, the 2 weeks of vacation, the racism and the cold.

To say nothing of how far they have to drive to buy some "really nasty patty dat a starving dawg wouldn't eat on him death-bed back home." Happiness turns out to be an elusive thing, and perhaps the best thing that those of us who have migrated can do is to stop trying to impress those back home, and instead start telling them the truth.


At 8/17/2007 10:55 AM, Blogger Deidre S. Powell said...

Thanks for sharing. I concur!


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