Ecological Economy, Ethical Business, and True Happiness in Education

March 20, 2017

I have been paying attention to the studies on happiness and business school development for a while. These two subjects seem irrelevant but in fact fundamentally reinforce each other (positively and negatively). Previous studies show various opinions, but surprisingly all of it are at individual level and very few aggregated to a collective and cross-displine level. I have thought about the reason and how come from education perspective we could not bring our students a true happiness in the end, despite that some of them have been very wealthy....

 

The recent study led by Robert Waldinger at Harvard Medical School gives me an insight. The basic lesson from this Harvard 75 years-lasting longitude study provides a strong evidence for the correlation between having good relationships and gaining happiness. Yes. departing from this point, building, treasuring, appreciating, and then developing healthy relationship with your communities can upgrade the sense of your happiness. And I think our education and all business schools worldwide need to pay serious attention and effort to develop our institutions as a happiness-cradling platform.

 

Working in a big business school and having chance to teach/communicate with our stakeholders worldwide (sometimes) make me feel a bit upset about what I have learned from our young generations in what they have believed in thriving in this society and how much difference in what our corporates have broadcasted and behaved, based on a "falsely wealthy-led mindset". I have kept hearing from our students about their motivation in studying here and there such as"...to have a good job in the future", "...to get promotion in the future","... to earn more money for retirement in the future" etc.... These replies are without significant deviations from students from developing and developed, rich and poor countries, in defining happiness in terms of being wealthy. I hardly heard from someone in studying in business school telling me that s/he is heading for this education JUST for reaching his/her own HAPPINESS. (Well, I did once hear from an elderly man who was the CEO of a multinational companies and pursuing his phd program after retirement, saying that his study was just for his happiness.) 

Well, we have to admit that the true happiness rooted in our students are not allowed to emerge, due to an insecure sense in surviving and thriving in this society. And we have to admit that this is due to the fact that our society was not designed for equality of thriving, in some countries, even not for surviving, but designed for benefiting an inequality of wealth game. I have to admit that this is not a wrong game, because this stage of economic development needs this rule to motivate individuals to gain wealth and trigger creativity (innovation) (note: for some countries, this stage of economic development already passed but this rule is still there). 

 

However, the disappointing side is what we see how much our students have shared an "universal but not ethical false measure of human kind's happiness"---inequity of wealth. It seems that our students and their parents have no choice but have to follow this rules in playing and being played in this inequity game, where discrimination are the key characteristic being implicitly explicated. Proved by what we observed from our students about their motivation in pursuing for example MBA studies and from other studies, social status largely determines our wealth at individual level, and education (with a good brand) might largely change the social status and help jump up along this discrimination ladder.

 

Daniel Katneman introduced the peak-end rule, finding that in terms of our memory, what we can remember (remembering self happiness) in the end matters what we remember in the peak and in the end. Duration does not matter in this rule. Happiness and decision-making are found largely deriving from our memory, and the easiest way to increase happiness is to control our use of time and find more time to do the things we enjoy doing. Very interestingly, Robert and his team's longitude study at Haravrd confirms this result and extends to confirm that what matters in this peak-end rule remembering-self happiness is RELATIONSHIP.

 

The results found from Gallup Survey shows that money does not buy you experiential happiness, but lack of money certainly buys you misery. For Americans, this benchmark of money is 60,000 dollars per year income. above this line, the marginal happiness you can gain is very limited/ Therefore, in terms of the correlation between getting more money and earning more experiential happiness, it seems not wrong to get a well branded and higher education for gaining a higher social status, then more wealth. I cannot argue this is not right, at least for centuries, human beings have been obeying it. But here we have to be aware that this type of rule exits with a condition that a society accumulates wealth with a limitation. For a new and future society, what we need to do now is how to help create a different version of wealth-pursing mindset (a well-being for human beings beyond physical material wealth) and how to help the society to work on it for the future right now rather than in the future. 

 

Okay, here is the point. at individual level, how to achieve happiness has been answered THEORETICALLY but how come it is STILL difficult to achieve PRACTICALLY is a big question. I argue it is because of our " false happiness led mindset" in education as well, aiming for educating students to survive in an inequality of wealth game, rather than helping them to thrive in a "true happiness-mindset world". But of course, I have to admit that to build a truly happiness world and mindset needs all governments (worldwide) jointly agree and change the economic measures (on this point, one of my other essays has discussed and argued).

 

To achieve social collective wealth, what we need in the end is to build a society of equality rather than inequality. All the measures for achieving a society of equality imply that we need to develop an different belief and (in) education, especially on the basis that "our new economy needs a broad view of economics that can go beyond the calculating, self-interests, individual to the account of community, compassion, and comics". This is the vision from the study by Stephen Marglin, and I still remember what he strongly called for in his speech "a new economics that can build on a basic insight of ecological economics, namely, the fundamental interdependence of humans and rest of nature". This is a vision for future economics studies, and also a message to the political leaders. Hopefully the future political leaders will seriously catch it. But at an education, especially higher education level, I believe at least we can do something, something to help it happen, and to help our students to gain a life-long-lasting-happiness derived career path, from the true values they build on gaining happiness , and from the progress to build healthy relationship with their communities. I believe only led by so, happiness can be achieved and well grasped at individual level, ethical business can be truly generated, and our human kind can build a truly peaceful and wealthy and healthy environment to live in. And Education cannot be negated to achieve ecological economy goal. 

 

To do so, I am just briefly suggesting here the future curriculum and business school teaching& research should work on how to upgrade a new concept of "what is truly happiness and how to build collective happiness with a real meaning for the local and global community". (detailed suggestions will not be included here).

I know it is not an easy job, but worth us to continue working on it together. 

 

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