An avid world traveler, there is nothing I love more than exploring new places and experiencing cultures that are vastly different from my own. On my latest adventure, I spent two weeks roaming around the South American country of Peru. Although best known for its well-preserved Inca ruins and lovable llama population, I learned that there are many dimensions of Peru that the average tourist does not see. The spirit of the Peruvian people struck me at many moments during my visit, but here I offer up five things that I learned during my travels that I find particularly revealing.

1. Rural poverty is rampant

Although government statistics report that only a third of the Peruvian population lives below the national poverty line, about 8 million people still qualify as poor. As I traveled from town to town in buses and taxis, time and time again I was forced to think about how much better the average living conditions of Americans are in comparison. Poverty in Peru is deepest among indigenous people living in remote rural areas. In fact, the national rural poverty rate is over 50 percent, with 20 percent of people in the Andean region considered extremely poor. This was evident in the villages in the mountains I passed through; they looked almost abandoned, with people living in huts, little modern technology and often no electricity.

2. Everything is cheap

For American tourists, this is not a bad thing. Currently, one Peruvian Nuevo Sol is equivalent to approximately $3.15 (USD), making purchasing hotels and food throughout Peru a breeze for thrifty college students like myself. Although I enjoyed the benefit of this exchange rate, it reflects a sad truth about the Peruvian economy. The average GDP per capita is $5,000 (USD), a sum that the majority of Americans can barely imagine earning in a month or two in order to make ends meet.

3. People are desperate

Every time I would visit a notable tourist site, I was swarmed by locals selling knock-off goods, badly reproduced “Peruvian artifacts” and women dressed in traditional garb with llamas, trying to charge money to take a photo with them. It seemed all fun and games at first, but the more I thought about it the more I realized that these were the actions of desperate people. Clearly these individuals are in need, as they are making a mockery of their own culture in order to make a couple sols – usually just a dollar or less.

4. Despite their poverty, the people are helpful

You might expect an impoverished population to lie and steal in order to make ends meet – this is the stereotype that many Americans adopt when visiting foreign countries. I, however, kept an open mind when I arrived in Peru, and I was more than pleasantly surprised by the conduct of the people I encountered. I did not feel like I was lied to or cheated at any time on my trip. On the contrary, everyone I encountered was extremely willing to help me. From the customs official who gave me restaurant suggestions to the cab driver who pulled over several times to ask locals on the street where my hostel was located, to the woman selling rice who told me to move my cell phone from my pocket to a safer place, I was met with incredible kindness.

5. More than helpful, the people are happy 

Although the poverty in Peru was evident in many of the towns that I visited, also evident was the spirit of the Peruvian people. At no time during my trip did it seem that individuals in the towns were unhappy with their situation. Children played soccer, elders sat on the porches and watched the world go by, and those giving my friend and me tours for reasonable sums were passionate about the landscapes of their country. This was perhaps the most inspiring for me, for even without wealth the people of Peru are able to live fulfilling lives and be generous and welcoming to those around them, even foreigners. It is these kinds of people that are worthy of help, and it is important to remember that people in poverty are not much different from you and me.

– Katharine Pickle

Sources: Rural Poverty Portal, CIA
Photo: Pulsa Merica

With the Alps reaching elevations beyond 15,000 feet, it is no wonder Switzerland sits at the top of this year’s list of happiest countries, produced by the 2015 World Happiness Report. While the country’s jocular vibes are great for its 8 million inhabitants, a closer look indicates impoverished individuals across the world should also be celebrating.

Since first being published in 2012, the World Happiness Report has delved into the intricacies of socioeconomic development. Turning the subjective nature of “happiness” into objective measures, the study reveals trends in the overall standard of living.

Using a scale that runs from 0 to 10, people in over 150 countries were surveyed by Gallup from 2012 to 2015. Real gross domestic product per capita, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on, perceived freedom to make life choices, freedom from corruption and generosity were all gauged in the surveys.

“As the science of happiness advances, we are getting to the heart of what factors define quality of life for citizens,”  said John F. Helliwell, professor at the University of British Columbia and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. “We are encouraged that more and more governments around the world are listening and responding with policies that put well-being first. Countries with strong social and institutional capital not only support greater well-being, but are more resilient to social and economic crises.”

Switzerland, in its snowcapped glory, pulled out all the stops – winning first place. Iceland, Denmark, Norway and Canada followed close behind.

A transparent government, superb healthcare system and dedicated education sector are the driving forces behind happy lifestyles. Their 35.2-hour workweeks may also have a little bit to do with it.

Regardless, Switzerland spreads the socioeconomic joy when it comes to foreign aid. Though countries like Sweden and Luxembourg beat out the Swiss in terms of giving, the country’s government is aiming to meet applause-worthy goals.

In 2011, officials agreed to give approximately 0.43 percent of their gross national income, best known as GNI, to official international development aid. At the time, the U.S. was only contributing 0.2 percent of its GNI.

Now, as Switzerland strives for a greater role in global poverty reduction and sustainability, the benchmark is set at 0.5 percent.

“Switzerland is well-placed to become a more visible leader on development issues and can capitalize on its extensive experience on the ground to influence global policy in areas like conflict, fragility, food security and climate change,” said Eril Solheim of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

In the wake of Nepal’s recent 7.8 magnitude earthquake, the Swiss delivered on their promises. Swiss Humanitarian Aid dispatched an integrative team of doctors, engineers, water specialists and logistics specialists to assess the damage.

Nationwide efforts raised $18.4 million, offered in the way of emergency aid and reconstruction projects.

“The fundraising day proves that major disasters strike a chord across the nation,” Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga said. “[…] the Swiss population shows generous solidarity regardless of age, language or income.”

– Lauren Stepp

Sources: Spring, SWI, UNSDSN
Photo: Flickr

money buy happiness
We are all familiar with the saying “money can not buy happiness.” It has been printed on bumper stickers, t-shirts and even pillows. People use it as a reminder to focus on the things they enjoy in life without a price tag, such as family and friends, rather than the material objects they can obtain with a swipe of their credit cards. But the link between happiness and money is complex, especially when it is evaluated on a worldwide scale.

The first person to develop a theory on the money-happiness connection was Richard Easterlin, a Professor of Economics at the University of Southern California. In 1974, Easterlin proposed that the wealthier people in a country are generally happier than poorer people in the same country, but wealthier countries, on the whole, are not happier than poorer countries. Known as the “Easterlin Paradox,” he found that the average reported national happiness level did not vary significantly with national per capita income.

The Easterlin Paradox is based on the difference between absolute and relative income. Happier people are those who are wealthier in comparison to their neighbors, and the divide between the rich and the poor is only widening in developed nations. According to a report released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) last year, the richest 10 percent of people across the 33 OECD member states earn 9.5 times the income of the poorest 10 percent.

So it is no surprise that people living in wealthier countries are consumed with “keeping up with the Joneses,” and, moreover, that this affects their happiness. According to licensed psychologist Beth Golden, Ph.D., happiness is found in wanting what you have, a concept commonly found in the philosophies of Dalai Lama.

“Cultural pressure that glamorizes and idealizes wealth and celebrities creates a sense of dissatisfaction and inadequacy for many people who buy into this illusion that wealth buys happiness,” said Golden.

A further impediment to happiness in wealthier countries is materialism. People in these countries have more aspirations because of advertising, social media, television and their peers to strive to acquire “things” or material wealth. “This may not exist in poorer countries where there is less exposure to technology and a great deal of daily energy is spent just trying to meet basic human needs for food, water, shelter and safety,” said Golden.

In 2011, Gallup conducted a poll which measured positive emotions in 148 countries and areas using five questions: (1) whether people experienced enjoyment the day before, (2) whether they felt respected, (3) well-rested, (4) laughed and smiled a lot, and (5) did or learned something interesting. The results were shocking to analysts who solely focus on “traditional economic indicators.”

Data showed that residents of Panama, which ranks 90th in the world in terms of GDP, reported the highest positive emotions with 85 percent answering “yes” to all questions asked. Residents of Singapore, which ranks 37th in the world in GDP per capita, reported the lowest positive emotions with only 46 percent answering “yes” to all questions asked. From the numbers, Easterlin appears to be right.

However, every survey has its flaws, and every theory has its challengers. In this case, the challengers are Wharton business and public policy professors Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, who published their own paper on the money-happiness connection titled “Subjective Well-Being, Income, Economic Development and Growth.”

In their paper, which analyzes data spanning over 40 years, 155 countries, and hundreds of thousands of individuals, Wolfers and Stevenson argue that “richer countries on average have higher levels of life satisfaction” and “as countries grow, their citizens report higher levels of life satisfaction.”

Wolfers and Stevenson maintain that absolute income is the strongest contributor to happiness while other aspects, including relative income, are of lesser importance. They further state that wealthier countries can afford investments in scientific research that contribute to lower child mortality and higher life expectancy rates, as well as improved public health.

Political leaders are also taking into account the strong link between a country’s level of economic development and the happiness of its people. British Prime Minister David Cameron regarded society’s sense of well-being as the “central political challenge of our times” and encouraged policies to focus “not just on GDP but on GWP–general well-being.” Initiatives to determine accurate worldwide levels of happiness have also increased in recent years.

But what really makes people happy? Though the answer is subjective, Golden believes that work that provides meaning and purpose and love through the availability of caring and supportive relationships is the key to happiness for many.

So can money buy happiness? The simple answer is maybe. But the connection between the two will only strengthen as national leaders begin to take “gross domestic happiness” into equal consideration to a country’s success as GDP.

– Abby Bauer

Sources: Knowledge@Wharton, Gallup, NBER, The Guardian, CDDEP
Photo: Daily Finance

poverty_happiness_panamaA Gallup poll revealed that Panama was one of the happiest countries in the world, followed by Paraguay and El Salvador. The poll interviewed people in 148 countries and asked about their experiences the day before. People were asked if they smiled a lot, if they felt respected and if they were well-rested.

Panama is one of the poorest countries in the world. Why are people there so happy?

1. Positive Attitude

Latin American countries focus on positives such as friends, family and religion despite the difficulties they may face in their daily lives. With the economic boom, including more jobs, resulting from the success of the Panama Canal comes increased traffic and crime. However, Panamanians choose to focus on the positives. People in the happiest, yet poorest, Latin American countries find joy in moral satisfaction more than in material goods, a mentality that is often not found in citizens within developed countries.

“Overall, I’m happy because this is a country with many natural resources, a country that plays an important role in the world,” Carlos Martinez said. “We’re Caribbean people, we’re people who like to celebrate, to eat well and live as well as we can. There are a lot of possibilities here, you just have to sacrifice a little more.”

2. Health Care

State-of-the-art equipment, highly skilled doctors and reasonably-priced health insurance are just a few benefits of living in Panama. As a result of a good healthcare system, life expectancy is quite high in Panama – 74 years for men and 80 years for women.

3. Favorable Climate

The temperature remains at about 80 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. Furthermore, the country does not experience dry and rainy seasons. The weather, along with a developed pension system, draws retirees to the country. In 2005, Panama won first place in the global index of the most comfortable countries in the world. According to the American Association of Retired Persons and the organization “International Living,” the United States recognized Panama as one of the world’s four best countries to live in outside the United States.

Haley Sklut

Sources: Live Science, Daily Mail, World Mathaba,
Photo: News