When following the news, it sometimes seems as if the problems of the Dutch society are getting bigger and bigger. As a result, the Dutch rarely realise that they are by far the happiest people in the world. Ruut Veenhoven, happiness professor at the Erasmus Happiness Economics Research Organization (EHERO), explains this paradox in HP de Tijd. ‘You do not hear happy people; they do not have a story.’
According to Veenhoven, the (mass) media play a major role in doomsday thinking. Day in, day out, they send a negative, sometimes downright apocalyptic flow of messages into the world that, according to Veenhoven, is nourished by the close bond between journalists and professional alarmists, which he considers to be one of the subcategories of “society’s improvers”. ‘Society’s improvers play a major role in the public opinion. They can only maintain their status, income and position of power if they raise sufficient issues. And if those problems are serious enough to keep the general public interested.’
Althought Veenhoven considers the media to play a useful role in the early detection of social injustices, he also holds them co-responsible for the torn thinking pattern of many Dutch people. ‘While sitting in your chair and stroking your sweet dog’s head, you will read all about how rotten society is and who’s the victim of it. That is the spiritual split that many Dutch people find themselves in.’ The relegation of FC Twente from the Eredivisie in 2018 is, according to Veenhoven, a good example of the exaggerated attention to problems. ‘The media were full of it for a week. How few real problems do you have as a country when you reflect on this for so long?’
The interview also discusses the proposition that wealth is no longer part of the solution, but part of the problem. Veenhoven totally disagrees with this proposition, and according to him, all the lucky monitors around the world repeatedly show a positive connection between wealth and happiness. ‘If you look at the figures of Greece, you will understand what I mean. Not only are the Greeks on average a lot less happy than the Dutch, partly due to their unstable economy, but you can also see that after the Financial crisis of 2008 their happiness have dropped more than one point, from 5.7 to 4.5. Maybe a small group of people will be happier if we become less wealthy, but for the vast majority this is certainly not the case.’
The entire interview in HP de Tijd, July/August 2019, can be downloaded below (in Dutch).