Happiness in wealth, poverty, or both?

Madison Wray: (Ms. Stewart)

Right off the bat, you may think Qatar, the richest country in the world, must be surrounded solely by other rich countries. However, hop on a plane going south and in six hours you could find yourself in Madagascar, one of the poorest countries in the world. Qatar is home to the largest oil reserves in the world and a population where 0% of people live below the poverty line.  Due to the massive amount of readily available gas, bottled water is more expensive than gas! Qatar, despite its immediate association with prosperity and wealth, is home to a population where half of the adults and a third of children are obese, and 17% of the nation suffers from diabetes. At first, this may sound surprising; however, if you take into consideration the wealth of these people, and how little they do for themselves, it all makes sense. For example, in Qatar, attendants fill up the citizen’s gas tanks for them no matter what, they have people wash their cars for them, and the majority of the population has a maid who does their laundry, cleans the house, and takes care of their kids every day. Also, if Qataris do not eat, it is said to be a shame, and if they leave someone’s house without eating it is also a shame. The government has tried to battle the “bloat” by encouraging Qataris to eat less and exercise more, but the country’s traditional culture makes it difficult for anyone to go on a diet.

            Madagascar on the other hand, is home to a population where 66.7% of people live below the poverty line, life expectancy is only a mere fifty-five years, and eighty-four out of one-thousand children die before the age of five. The reason for this high number of early aged deaths is due to the lack of immune development needed to fight common diseases children are exposed to. Lack of hygiene, chronic malnutrition and the absence of access to drinking water only encourage the increase and development of such infectious diseases including respiratory ailments, tuberculosis and hepatitis. Malagasy farmers also practice subsistence agriculture meaning they only farm to produce enough crops for themselves and their family. Madagascar relies heavily on US assistance and aid, however they have in fact started to establish responsible governance, strengthen the transport and communication infrastructure network, transform education, develop rural zones, invest in health, family planning and combating AIDS.

            After looking into the lifestyles of the citizens in Madagascar and Qatar, we realize just how incredibly different and opposing the lifestyles of these people really are. This brings up the question as to whether or not these different types of people living such differing lifestyles can both be happy. In the words of Aristotle, “Happiness according to us means living well, and doing well.” Immediately we may assume then that the Malagasy people are absolutely not happy if 66.7% of them are missing the “living well” aspect. In Qatar, we may think they simply have to be happy considering they live the easy life having every little thing done for them every day. However, as mentioned previously, Qatar also carries with it the label of the “fattest country in the world” which raises the question as to whether having everything done for you really does result in the greatest amount happiness or even aid in the happiness one may have. John Stuart Mill a renowned philosopher said, “By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain.” This take on happiness seems to indirectly relegate the Malagasy people and practically say they cannot be happy. Considering the high level of disease and pain they deal with daily, according to Mill they cannot be happy as long as they experience this daily “pain”. Aristotle’s view on happiness is much more possible for the Malagasy people because a lot of them may not be technically “living well” but many of them are happy and have learned how to make the most of what they have. In other words, “living well” does not necessarily mean living a wealthy life where everything is done for you. However, this is not to say that the majority of the people living in Qatar are not happy, rather, the Malagasy people have most likely just learned how to find this happiness on their own.  

            In Madagascar, family bonds play a much stronger and important role than they do in Qatar. Aristotle said, “In educating the young, we use pleasure and pain as the rudders of their course.” Through this he touches on the importance of educating children not necessarily school-wise, but education through the parents teaching their children general life lessons, and being there for them each day. In Qatar, parents leave early in the morning to either work or just get out of the house, leaving their children under the supervision of a maid all day. According to Aristotle, “A man is not good at all unless he takes pleasure in noble deeds” meaning that these parents are not good at all if they think letting someone else practically raise their children is okay. Taking care of and raising children is not technically a rule, however it definitely could be considered an act of generosity that comes with having children, and Aristotle says, “no man is happy does he not take pleasure in acts of generosity.” Qataris may claim to be “happy” but according to Aristotle, the lifestyle they are forgoing is not resulting in as much happiness as is possible for them. Qataris do not have a sense for moderation when it comes to their pleasures considering they have the highest obesity rate in the world.  Also, they do not take pride in generous and noble acts of kindness for others, especially their children due to the culture and traditions of the country as a whole.

            In Madagascar, families are incredibly tight-knit and parents genuinely care about the bonds they have with their children. Malagasy people live a lifestyle that lies on the complete opposite side of the spectrum from the Qatari lifestyle. This difference in lifestyle alone proves that happiness comes in such variation and what makes people happy varies from person to person and from country to country. However, when following Aristotle’s theories on happiness, it is apparent that Malagasy people, despite the high poverty rate, are much happier. All in all, this makes it clear that material goods are not the leading factor behind finding happiness. One of the most famous quotes, “Money can’t buy happiness” is very relevant for the situation in Qatar and Madagascar. The Qataris may have loads and loads of money; however, money and happiness don’t go hand in hand. Happiness is much greater than paper and coins which is why Aristotle goes so in depth with his ideas on happiness and its roots.

            After looking into the antithetical lifestyles of the Malagasy and Qatari people, it can be concluded that there is no single thing, object, or lifestyle that makes every person happy. You can be rich and be happy, poor and be happy, skinny and be happy, obese and be happy, etc. Madagascar, having one of the thinnest populations, and Qatar, having the fattest population in the world, are both homes to very happy people as well. It can further be concluded that all of Aristotle’s theories and ideas on happiness may be valid, but are simply ideas and guides to strive for and would only be fully obtainable if someday we acquired world peace. However, the Malagasy people have definitely learned that happiness does not necessarily come simply as a result of money; happiness is much more than money. Happiness is unlimited and unrestricted meaning it is up to you to find something that makes you happy even if it is something that may not be “popular” or common to other people around you. As Thomas Jefferson once said, “Our greatest happiness does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed us, but is always the result of a good conscience, good health, occupation, and freedom in all just pursuits.” Despite living conditions, with generosity, a good conscience, and love, we can all be rewarded with the happiness we all seek to find.


Works Cited

 Bates, Theunis . “Qatar: The tiny nation that roared.” The Week. http://theweek.com/article/index/249941/qatar-the-tiny-nation-that-roared (accessed June 27, 2014).

IFAD. “Rural Poverty Portal.” Rural Poverty Portal. http://www.ruralpovertyportal.org/country/home/tags/madagascar (accessed June 27, 2014).

Telegraph Media Group. “What’s it like to live in Qatar, the world’s richest country?.” The Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/expat/before-you-go/9667625/Whats-it-like-to-live-in-Qatar-the-worlds-richest-country.html 


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