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World Happiness Report 2018 – John F. Helliwell, Richard Layard and Jeffrey D. Sachs.

The most striking finding is that a ranking of countries according to the happiness of their immigrant populations is almost exactly the same as for the rest of the population.

Happiness can change, and does change, according to the quality of the society in which people live.

The countries with the happiest immigrants are not the richest countries, but instead the countries with a more balanced set of social and institutional supports for better lives.

A higher value for migrant acceptance is linked to greater happiness for both immigrants and the native-born, by almost equal amounts.

Human psychology is complicated, and behavioural economics has now documented hundreds of ways in which people mispredict the impact of decisions upon their happiness. It does not follow that we should over-regulate their lives, which would also cause unhappiness. It does follow that we should protect people after they make their decisions, by ensuring that they can make positive social connections in their new communities (hence avoiding or reducing discrimination), and that they are helped to fulfill the dreams that led them to move in the first place.

The World Happiness Report is a landmark survey of the state of global happiness. The World Happiness Report 2018, ranks 156 countries by their happiness levels, and 117 countries by the happiness of their immigrants.

The main focus of this year’s report, in addition to its usual ranking of the levels and changes in happiness around the world, is on migration within and between countries.

The overall rankings of country happiness are based on the pooled results from Gallup World Poll surveys from 2015-2017, and show both change and stability. There is a new top ranking country, Finland, but the top ten positions are held by the same countries as in the last two years, although with some swapping of places. Four different countries have held top spot in the four most recent reports, Denmark, Switzerland, Norway and now Finland.

All the top countries tend to have high values for all six of the key variables that have been found to support well-being: income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity. Among the top countries, differences are small enough that year-to-year changes in the rankings are to be expected.

The analysis of happiness changes from 2008-2010 to 2015-2015 shows Togo as the biggest gainer, moving up 17 places in the overall rankings from the last place position it held as recently as in the 2015 rankings. The biggest loser is Venezuela, down 2.2 points on the 0 to 10 scale.

Five of the report’s seven chapters deal primarily with migration, as summarized in Chapter 1. For both domestic and international migrants, the report studies not just the happiness of the migrants and their host communities, but also of those left behind, whether in the countryside or in the source country. The results are generally positive.

Perhaps the most striking finding of the whole report is that a ranking of countries according to the happiness of their immigrant populations is almost exactly the same as for the rest of the population. The immigrant happiness rankings are based on the full span of Gallup data from 2005 to 2017, sufficient to have 117 countries with more than 100 immigrant respondents.

The ten happiest countries in the overall rankings also are ten of the top eleven spots in the ranking of immigrant happiness. Finland is at the top of both rankings in this report, with the happiest immigrants, and the happiest population in general.

The closeness of the two rankings shows that the happiness of immigrants depends predominantly on the quality of life where they now live, illustrating a general pattern of convergence. Happiness can change, and does change, according to the quality of the society in which people live. Immigrant happiness, like that of the locally born, depends on a range of features of the social fabric, extending far beyond the higher incomes traditionally thought to inspire and reward migration.

The countries with the happiest immigrants are not the richest countries, but instead the countries with a more balanced set of social and institutional supports for better lives.

While convergence to local happiness levels is quite rapid, it is not complete, as there is a ‘footprint’ effect based on the happiness in each source country. This effect ranges from 10% to 25%. This footprint effect, explains why immigrant happiness is less than that of the locals in the happiest countries, while being greater in the least happy countries.

A very high proportion of the international differences in immigrant happiness (as shown in Chapter 2), and of the happiness gains for individual migrants (as studied in Chapters 3 and 5) are thus explained by local happiness and source country happiness.

The explanation becomes even more complete when account is taken of international differences in a new Gallup index of migrant acceptance, based on local attitudes towards immigrants, as detailed in an Annex to the Report.

A higher value for migrant acceptance is linked to greater happiness for both immigrants and the native-born, by almost equal amounts.

The report studies rural-urban migration as well, principally through the recent Chinese experience, which has been called the greatest mass migration in history. That migration shows some of the same convergence characteristics of the international experience, with the happiness of city-bound migrants moving towards, but still falling below urban averages.

The importance of social factors in the happiness of all populations, whether migrant or not, is emphasized in Chapter 6, where the happiness bulge in Latin America is found to depend on the greater warmth of family and other social relationships there, and to the greater importance that people there attach to these relationships.

The Report ends on a different tack, with a focus on three emerging health problems that threaten happiness: obesity, the opioid crisis, and depression. Although set in a global context, most of the evidence and discussion are focused on the United States, where the prevalence of all three problems has been growing faster and further than in most other countries.

Edited by John F. Helliwell, Richard Layard and Jeffrey D. Sachs This publication may be reproduced using the following reference: Helliwell, J., Layard, R., & Sachs, J. (2018). World Happiness Report 2018, New York: Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

Chapter 1

Happiness and Migration: An Overview

Increasingly, with globalisation, the people of the world are on the move; and most of these migrants are seeking a happier life. But do they achieve it? That is the central issue considered in this 2018 World Happiness Report. But what if they do? The migrants are not the only people affected by their decision to move. Two other major groups of people are affected by migration: • those left behind in the area of origin, and • those already living in the area of destination.

This chapter assesses the happiness consequences of migration for all three groups. We shall do this separately, first for rural-urban migration within countries, and then for international migration.

Rural-Urban Migration

Rural-urban migration within countries has been far larger than international migration, and remains so, especially in the developing world. There has been, since the Neolithic agricultural revolution, a net movement of people from the countryside to the towns. In bad times this trend gets partially reversed. But in modern times it has hugely accelerated.

The timing has differed in the various parts of the world, with the biggest movements linked to boosts in agricultural productivity combined with opportunities for employment elsewhere, most frequently in an urban setting. It has been a major engine of economic growth, transferring people from lower productivity agriculture to higher productivity activities in towns.

In some industrial countries this process has gone on for two hundred years, and in recent times rural-urban migration within countries has been slowing down. But elsewhere, in poorer countries like China, the recent transformation from rural to urban living has been dramatic enough to be called “the greatest mass migration in human history”. Over the years 1990-2015 the Chinese urban population has grown by 463 million, of whom roughly half are migrants from villages to towns and cities. By contrast, over the same period the increase in the number of international migrants in the entire world has been 90 million, less than half as many as rural to urban migrants in China alone.

Thus internal migration is an order of magnitude larger than international migration. But it has received less attention from students of wellbeing, even though both types of migration raise similar issues for the migrants, for those left behind, and for the populations receiving the migrants.

The shift to the towns is most easily seen by looking at the growth of urban population in developing countries (see Table 1.1). Between 1990 and 2015 the fraction of people in these countries who live in towns rose from 30% to nearly 50%, and the numbers living in towns increased by over 1,500 million people. A part of this came from natural population growth within towns or from villages becoming towns. But at least half of it came from net migration into the towns. In the more developed parts of the world there was also some rural-urban migration, but most of that had already happened before 1990.

International Migration

If rural-urban migration within countries is an age-old phenomenon, large-scale international migration has increased greatly in recent years due to globalisation (see Table 1.2). In 1990 there were in the world 153 million people living outside the country where they were born. By 2015 this number had risen to 244 million, of whom about 10% were refugees. So over the last quarter century international migrants increased by 90 million.

This is a large number, even if dwarfed by the scale of rural-urban migration. In addition, on one estimate there are another 700 million people who would like to move between countries but haven’t yet done so.

Of the increased number of recent migrants over a half comes from migration between continents (see Table 1.3). There were big migrations into North America and Europe, fuelled by emigration from South/Central America, Asia and Africa.

There were also important flows of international migrants within continents (see Table 1.4). In Asia for example there were big flows from the Indian sub-continent to the Gulf States; and in Europe there was the strong westward flow that has followed the end of Communism.

From the point of view of the existing residents an important issue is how many immigrants there are, as a share of the total population. This requires us to look at immigrants as a fraction of the total population. At the world level this has risen by a half in recent years (see Table 1.2).

But in most of the poorer and highly populous countries of the world the proportion of migrants remains quite low. It is in some richer countries that the proportion of immigrants is very high. In Western Europe, most countries have immigrants at between 10 and 15 per cent of the population. The same is true of the USA; while Canada, Australia and New Zealand have between 20 and 30%. The most extreme cases are the UAE and Kuwait, both over 70%.

Figure 1.1 shows the situation worldwide.

The Happiness of International Migrants

As already noted, migration within and between countries has in general shifted people from less to more productive work, and from lower to higher incomes. In many cases the differences have been quite extreme. International migration has also saved many people from extremes of oppression and physical danger, some 10% of all international migrants are refugees, or 25 million people in total.

But what can be said about the happiness of international migrants after they have reached their destination?

Chapter 2 of this report begins with its usual ranking and analysis of the levels and changes in the happiness of all residents, whether locally born or immigrants, based on samples of 1,000 per year, averaged for 2015-2017, for 156 countries surveyed by the Gallup World Poll. The focus is then switched to international migration, separating out immigrants to permit ranking of the average life evaluations of immigrants for the 117 countries having more than 100 foreign-born respondents between 2005 and 2017. (These foreign-born residents may include short-term guest workers, longer term immigrants, and serial migrants who shift their residency more often, at different stages of their upbringing, careers, and later lives).

So what determines the happiness of immigrants living in different countries and coming from different, other countries? Three striking facts emerge:

1. In the typical country, immigrants are about as happy as people born locally. (The difference is under 0.1 point out of 10). This is shown in Figure 1.2. However the figure also shows that in the happiest countries immigrants are significantly less happy than locals, while the reverse is true in the least happy countries. This is because of the second finding.

2. The happiness of each migrant depends not only on the happiness of locals (with a weight of roughly 0.75) but also on the level of happiness in the migrant’s country of origin (with a weight of roughly 0.25). Thus if a migrant goes (like many migrants) from a less happy to a more happy country, the migrant ends up somewhat less happy than the locals. But the reverse is true if a migrant goes from a more to a less happy country.

This explains the pattern shown in Figure 1.2, and is a general (approximate) truth about all bilateral flows. Another way of describing this result is to say that on average a migrant gains in happiness about three-quarters of the difference in average happiness between the country of origin and the destination country.

3. The happiness of immigrants also depends, importantly, on how accepting the locals are towards immigrants. (To measure acceptance local residents were asked whether the following were “good things” or “bad things”: having immigrants in the country, having an immigrant as a neighbour, and having an immigrant marry your close relative).

In a country that was more accepting (by one standard deviation) immigrants were happier by 0.1 points (on a 0 to 10 scale). Thus the analysis in Chapter 2 argues that
migrants gain on average if they move from a less happy to a more happy country (which is the main direction of migration). But that argument was based on a simple comparison of the happiness of migrants with people in the countries they have left.

What if the migrants were different types of people from those left behind? Does this change the conclusion? As Chapter 3 shows, the answer is, No.

In Chapter 3 the happiness of migrants is compared with individuals in their country of origin who are as closely matched to the migrants as possible and are thinking of moving. This again uses the data from the Gallup World Poll. The results from comparing the migrants with their look-a-likes who stayed at home suggests that the average international migrant gained 0.47 points (out of 10) in happiness by migration (as measured by the Cantril ladder). This is a substantial gain. But there is an important caveat: the majority gain, but many lose. For example, in the only controlled experiment that we know of, Tongans applying to migrate to New Zealand were selected on randomised basis. After moving, those who had been selected to move were on average less happy than those who (forcibly) stayed behind.

Migration clearly has its risks. These. include separation from loved ones,. discrimination in the new location, and a feeling of relative deprivation, because you now compare yourselfwith others who are richer than your previous reference group back home.

One obvious question is: Do migrants become happier or less happy the longer they have been in a country? The answer is on average, neither, their happiness remains flat. And in some countries (where this has been studied) there is evidence that second-generation migrants are no happier than their immigrant parents.

One way of explaining these findings (which is developed further in Chapter 4) is in terms of reference groups: When people first move to a happier country their reference group is still largely their country of origin. They experience an immediate gain in happiness. As time passes their objective situation improves (which makes them still happier) but their reference group becomes increasingly the destination country (which makes them less happy). These two effects roughly offset each other. This process continues in the second generation.

The Gallup World Poll excludes many current refugees, since refugee camps are not surveyed. Only in Germany is there sufficient evidence on refugees, and in Germany refugees are 0.4 points less happy than other migrants. But before they moved the refugees were also much less happy than the other migrants were before they moved.

So refugees too are likely to have benefitted from migration. Thus average international migration benefits the majority of migrants, but not all. Does the same finding hold for the vast of the army of people who have moved from the country to the towns within less developed countries?

The Happiness of Rural-Urban Migrants

The fullest evidence on this comes from China and is presented in Chapter 4. That chapter compares the happiness of three groups of people:

• rural dwellers, who remain in the country,

• rural-urban migrants, now living in towns, and

• urban dwellers, who always lived in towns.

Migrants have roughly doubled their work income by moving from the countryside, but they are less happy than the people still living in rural areas. Chapter 4 therefore goes on to consider possible reasons for this.

Could it be that many of the migrants suffer because of the remittances they send home? The evidence says No. Could it be that the people who migrate were intrinsically less happy? The evidence says No. Could it be that urban life is more insecure than life in the countryside, and involves fewer friends and more discrimination? Perhaps.

The biggest factor affecting the happiness of migrants is a change of reference group: the happiness equation for migrants is similar to that of urban dwellers, and different from that of rural dwellers. This could explain why migrants say they are happier as a result of moving, they would no longer appreciate the simple pleasures of rural life.

Human psychology is complicated, and behavioural economics has now documented hundreds of ways in which people mispredict the impact of decisions upon their happiness. It does not follow that we should over-regulate their lives, which would also cause unhappiness. It does follow that we should protect people after they make their decisions, by ensuring that they can make positive social connections in their new communities (hence avoiding or reducing discrimination), and that they are helped to fulfil the dreams that led them to move in the first place.

It is unfortunate that there are not more studies of rural-urban migration in other countries. In Thailand one study finds an increase in happiness among migrants, while in South Africa one study finds a decrease?

The Happiness of Families Left Behind

In any case the migrants are not the only people who matter. What about the happiness of the families left behind? They frequently receive remittances (altogether some $500 billion in 2015), but they lose the company and direct support of the migrant. For international migrants we are able to examine this question In Chapter 3.

This is done by studying people in the country of origin and examining the effect of having a relative who is living abroad. On average this experience increases both life-satisfactlon and positive affect. But there is also a rise in negative affect (sadness, worry, anger), especially if the migrant is abroad on temporary work. Unfortunately there is no comparable analysis of families left behind by rural-urban migrants who move to towns and cities in the same country.

The Happiness of the Original Residents in the Host Country

The final issue is how the arrival of migrants affects the existing residents in the host country or city. This is one of the most difficult issues in all social science.

One approach is simply to explain happiness in different countries by a whole host of variables including the ratio of immigrants to the locally born population (the “immigrant share”). This is done in Chapter 2 and shows no effect of the immigrant share on the average happiness of the locally born. It does however show that the locally born population (like immigrants) are happier, other things equal, if the country is more accepting of immigrants.

Nevertheless, we know that immigration can create tensions, as shown by its high political salience in many immigrant-receiving countries, especially those on migration trails from unhappy source countries to hoped-for havens in the north.

Several factors contribute to explaining whether migration is welcomed by the local populations.

First, scale is important. Moderate levels of immigration cause fewer problems than rapid surges,

Second, the impact of unskilled immigration falls mainly on unskilled people in the host country, though the impact on public services is often exaggerated and the positive contribution of immigrants is often underestimated.

Third, the degree of social distress caused to the existing residents depends importantly on their own frame of mind, a more open-minded attitude is better both for immigrants and for the original residents.

Fourth, the attitude of immigrants is also important if they are to find and accept opportunities to connect with the local populations, this is better for everyone. Even if such integration may initially seem difficult, in the long run it has better results, familiarity eventually breeds acceptance, and inter-marriage more than anything blurs the differences.

The importance of attitudes is documented in the Gallup Annex on migrant acceptance, and in Chapter 2, where the migrant acceptance index is shown to increase the happiness of both sectors of the population, immigrants and the locally born.

Chapter 5 completes the set of migration chapters. It seeks to explain why so many people emigrate from Latin American countries, and also to assess the happiness consequences for those who do migrate. In Latin America, as elsewhere, those who plan to emigrate are on average less happy than others. Similar to themselves in income, gender and age. They are also on average wealthier, in other words they are “frustrated achievers”.

But those who do emigrate from Latin American countries also gain less in happiness than emigrants from some other continents. This is because, as shown in chapters 2 and 6, they come from pretty happy countries. Their choice of destination countries is also a less happy mix. This combination lessens their average gains, because of the convergence of immigrant happiness to the general happiness levels in the countries to which they move, as documented in Chapter 2. If immigrants from Latin America are compared to other migrants to the same countries, they do very well in relation both to other immigrants and to the local population. This is shown in Chapter 2 for immigration to Canada and the United Kingdom, countries with large enough happiness surveys to permit comparison of the happiness levels of immigrants from up to 100 different source countries.

Chapter 6 completes the Latin American special package by seeking to explain the happiness bulge in Latin America. Life satisfaction in Latin America is substantially higher than would be predicted based on income, corruption, and other standard variables, includIng having someone to count on. Even more remarkable are the levels of positive affect, with eight of the world‘s top ten countries being found in Latin America.

To explaIn these differences, Chapter 6 convincingly demonstrates the strength of family relationships in Latin America. In a nutshell, the source of the extra Latin American happiness lies in the remarkable warmth and strength of family bonds, coupled with the greater importance that Latin Americans attach to social life in general, and especially to the family. They are more satisfied with their family life and, more than elsewhere, say that one of their main goals is making their parents proud.

Conclusion

In conclusion, there are large gaps in happiness between countries, and these will continue to create major pressures to migrate. Some of those who migrate between countries will benefit and others will lose. In general, those who move to happier countrIes than their own will gain in happiness, while those who move to unhappier countries will tend to lose. Those left behind will not on average lose, although once again there will be gainers and losers. Immigration will continue to pose both opportunities and costs for those who move, for those who remain behind, and for natives of the immigrant-receiving countries.

Where immigrants are welcome and where they integrate well, immigration works best. A more tolerant attitude in the host country will prove best for migrants and for the original residents. But there are clearly limits to the annual flows which can be accommodated without damage to the social fabric that provides the very basis of the country’s attraction to immigrants.

One obvious solution, which has no upper limit, is to raise the happiness of people in the sending countries, perhaps by the traditional means of foreign aid, and better access to rich-country markets, but more importantly by helping them to grow their own levels of trust, and institutions of the sort that make possible better lives in the happier countries.

Download the full report, Pdf

World Happiness Report

Success. Or, the paradox of happiness – Susi Ferrarello Ph.D. – Judged, The Value of Being Misunderstood – Ziyad Marar.

The moral qualities of someone are as important as their expected competence.

A robust sense of self isn’t really possible except as reflected in the eyes of those whose views we care about, whether parents, friends, colleagues or other audiences.

What we really want, but can’t ever ask for, is to be judged well. And we can’t ask for that, because wrapped into that wish is a vulnerable hope that you will not find me wanting.

The judgements we dispense on a daily basis are flawed in many ways and are unfairly distributed because they are driven by seIf-serving, hypocritical and skewed perceptions of each other.

It is hard to admit we want to be judged well, because we need to achieve that happy state without being seen to be seeking it.

You succeeded, so you must be happy, right?

It is somewhat curious to think how we arrived at considering happiness as a byproduct of success. Even in such disparate groups as my clients and my students have come to the same conclusion: that successful people must be happy because they reached what they wanted in life—money, power, social status, public acknowledgment.

This means that since happiness seems a reasonable goal to pursue my students and clients tend to imitate those models to chase that success.

My suspicion is that this attitude leads to the opposite result, especially if we do not define the word happiness precisely but rather define it only by its means.

Psychology Today

Judged

The Value of Being Misunderstood

Ziyad Marar

So, did you judge this book by its cover? Or were you intrigued by the title? The subtitle? And now you encounter these lines are you drawn in or put off by this attempt to engage you directly? It’s complicated now I think of it. As I write, I’m conscious of different audiences who might want different things and equally that there is no way to deliver on such a wide range of expectations.

Are you judging me? There is a quick heat in the question which is revealing. Implicit in my tone is chagrin and accusation. ‘Don’t be so judgemental’, I’m saying, in a quite judgemental way. To call someone ‘judgemental’ always seems like a negative judgement, doesn’t it? After all I wouldn’t say it after a round of applause, or a compliment. Those more positive appraisals just don’t have the same impact. When it comes to judgement, criticism weighs much more heavily than praise.

Calling you ‘judgemental’ is a defensive move on my part, an accusation that you are being critical and asks you to explain yourself. My question, ‘Are you judging me?’ is loaded with the discomfort of being scrutinized and found wanting and invites me to judge you in return as a form of protective retaliation. I’m asking what your status is in relation to me and what relevance my actions have to you. ‘Who do you think you are anyway?!’

But do I really want you to stop judging me? Sure, right there and then, I do. I want to avoid negative appraisal, so I’d like it to stop. The safer language of ‘live and let live’, ‘each to their own’ is where we turn when we feel exposed to the harsh glare, and wish to escape scrutiny.

But true escape from judgement is a fantasy. How can we live meaningfully without being judged at all? Even criticism is necessary to living well. Without it we’d be playing tennis with the net down. Other people are necessary for our survival on many levels. They are sources of pleasure, goods, information, but most of all they shape our self-image and self-esteem. While it can be painful at times, the judgement of others is also a source of significance and a necessary path to feeling justified. A robust sense of self isn’t really possible except as reflected in the eyes of those whose views we care about, whether parents, friends, colleagues or other audiences.

Alongside the tribulations and unfairnesses of critical judgement lies the tentative hope for kinder appraisals. Raymond Carver, in the poem ‘Late Fragment’, written at the end of his life, concluded that he got what he wanted from this life, namely ‘To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.’ With Carver we want to feel beloved or at least admired, or respected or just recognized. So, what we really want, but can’t ever ask for, is to be judged well. And I can’t ask for that, because wrapped into that wish is a vulnerable hope that you will not find me wanting, quite independently of that hope. I don’t want your charity, or sympathy, or to turn you into a puppet or to generate mere canned applause. It is hard to admit we want to be judged well, because we need to achieve that happy state without being seen to be seeking it.

The psychoanalyst Leslie Farber describes our attempts at willing what cannot be willed. His examples (I can will knowledge, but not wisdom; going to bed, but not sleeping, eating, but not hunger, meekness, but not humility . . . ) are troubling enough. But this is worse. In the case of receiving good judgement, even if I could will it to happen, the judgement resulting wouldn’t be worth having. If there is no attendant risk of receiving bad judgement, then the good judgement we receive loses its value. Judgement worth having needs to be fraught with the possibility of painful failure if it is to matter. And this is why we feel so deeply ambivalent about it, and will often pretend to wish our need for it away. It is really why my question contains emotional heat.

By ‘judgement’ I’m thinking of the social and moral judgements we make of each other in different forms, mainly evaluations of character or action, including the appearance and status, of another person especially around their competence or motivation. These ways of seeing each other pepper our interactions, whether through barely perceptible flinches and gut feels through to more conscious assessments, sometimes negative and sometimes positive, but judging all along. Throughout this book I’ll be exploring how this capacity, while necessary, is often partial, inconsistent, self-serving, skewed and for these reasons unevenly distributed. And that this unreliability applies as much to how we judge ourselves as it does to how we judge each other.

The unreliability of our judgements ensures that the understanding we have of each other is similarly limited, which is why no one will ever truly understand you. Much of this book is an exploration of the limits to the knowledge we can have of each other and the corresponding feeling that most of us, for much of the time, can feel unknown, alone and other.

When I was nearly 10 years old, my family moved from Beirut to Purley in south London. We had left after the civil war in Lebanon started in 1975 and headed to be near my mother’s parents in Croydon. Our first British summer was the famously hot drought of 1976, with temperatures up in the 30s and people needing to ration water. This at least gave us all, my brother, sister and me, some familiar context in what felt an otherwise very unfamiliar country, a country with people who only had one pair of shorts! We all struggled with the adjustment in various ways, my Jordanian father tackling the idiosyncrasies of ‘British middle management’ and having to commute to and from the Middle East for work, my mother after fifteen years abroad finding us schools and somewhere to live. The primary school we went to was just up the road from our house in Purley, so an easy commute at least. But it was a disorientating experience nevertheless, not least because the teachers, seeing that I had a Christian middle name, decided to call me Paul, and I didn’t have the courage to correct them for over a year.

I remember one afternoon getting the results of a maths test. I had got nine out of ten on the test and should have been pleased with that. Unfortunately, the mark I lost was because I had written the correct answer in Arabic. The answer was six, which written in Arabic is indistinguishable from an English seven. Rather than just let it lie, I decided to mention it to the teacher during the lesson. Too seIf-conscious to put my hand up, I can remember walking up to the front of the class and leaning over to whisper to him what had happened. He looked at me with disbelief, and clearly thought I was trying to cheat. I felt embarrassed, and falsely accused during my slow walk back to my chair, my ears reddening with shame. I could hear sniggering. The sense of alienation I had in this new terrain was thus underscored, and I gained a painful insight that is expressed well by the writer and psychotherapist Adam Phillips in his book Monogamy:

“We work hard to keep certain versions of ourselves in other people’s minds; and, of course, the less appealing ones out of their minds. And yet everyone we meet invents us, whether we like it or not. Indeed nothing convinces us more of the existence of other people, of just how different they are from us, than what they can make of what we say to them. Our stories often become unrecognizable as they go from mouth to mouth.

Being misrepresented is simply being presented with a version of ourselves, an invention that we cannot agree with.”

My maths test episode stays with me as just one example of being misunderstood in this way. The story being told of me was unrecognizable to me. Yet I still internalized enough of the criticism to judge myself harshly for having made a fuss, and being foolish enough to get out of my chair. Pathetic! This kind of vivid example is thankfully relatively rare. But misjudgements, misunderstandings, misrecognition on a more banal level, are very common. Slight crossings of wires, mismatches in assumptions, desires, social missteps, all create a web of miscomprehension that shadows, and isolates us within, our daily lives. Even when written in lighter ink, these experiences of misjudgement and misconstrual, it seems to me, are a central feature of what it is to be human.

While this is a sobering thought, I’ll be arguing later that the story is not necessarily a bleak one. There is something hopeful that can come from our misapprehensions. In fact the gaps in knowledge between you and me often provide creative spaces in which our protean selves can develop and grow. Too much knowledge would be claustrophobic, predictable and bland. As Leonard Cohen puts it in the chorus of his song ‘Anthem’, a message echoed in the cover of this book,

“Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

Judging in the digital age

If you want to see how the terrain of judgement has become more complicated in recent years, just look at how much time and effort we invest in expressing ourselves online. And those who think we have become anti-social with an addiction to screens have got it backwards. As my daughter Anna once reminded me when I complained, ‘it is called social media, Dad’.

In presenting ourselves through digital lenses, only seemingly locked away from everyday life, we are instead locked into networks of others who communicate with and assess each other’s presentations of ourselves in a quite intense way. This is not always easy to see. We may focus on connection, relationships and gathering information as we communicate this way but this view tends to require we avert our gaze from how online performances are often set out with the hope we will be assessed well by others, who in turn respond in a similarly deliberate way, creating a hall of mirrors of mutual, hopeful, selfconscious reflections. It is hard to feel good about yourself when you now have a window on to a world of people presenting themselves in their best light, for comparison.

The way self-esteem is fed or starved through this medium can be seen with the rising rates of self-harming and online bullying alongside the everyday flow of selfies, gossip and the growth of tools like Instagram and Snapchat. And, of course, there can be harmful consequences for people who have yet to find out there is no delete button on the internet, who might say and show things they later regret.

Our culture has been so permeated by new forms of communication that we are no longer shocked to hear numbers that would have left us openmouthed in disbelief a decade ago: two billion people on Facebook consume 500 years of video every day; 350,000 tweets are produced every minute and 650 million blogs are written each day. And all of them adorned with metrics that give you some basis for comparison. You can count how many friends a person has, or how many ‘likes’ their post receives, their followers and subscribers, their retweets, Tumblr re-posts and YouTube views. And much as we deny the significance of such simplistic measures of success, it is very likely they have some kind of skewing effects on most people’s behaviour.

When you get out of an Uber you are invited to score the driver by clicking on one of five stars, but you need to remember that they are scoring you too. The first episode of Black Mirror, season 3, by Charlie Brooker takes this mutual scoring into a satirical dystopia in which people whose scores are constantly changing and constantly visible to all, panic as their rating falls below 4.2, which then limits their access to highstatus goods. Those who have fallen catastrophically to under 2 become the underclass. The power of the programme comes in echoing the ubiquity of digitally mediated social judgement that has so quickly become part of contemporary lives.

Take Twitter. Who can honestly say they have no idea how many followers they have? Who won’t feel a little blip of satisfaction to see new followers or re-tweets appearing under that little blue sign dubbed ‘notifications’. And who doesn’t send out a tweet wondering whether it will get acknowledged in some way? Why tweet at all unless you hope to be noticed and acknowledged? Three hundred and fifty thousand tweets per minute adds up to over half a billion attention-seeking messages every day.

We have all become broadcasters and now can reach much larger audiences with a click of a button than would have been possible for anyone outside of the media industries only a few years ago. And this leaves us open to much faster judgements if we get it wrong. The intensity of judgement is refracted brightly through a digital lens and makes it quite clear that those who thought the internet was a place to express yourself privately got it completely wrong. When Emily Thornberry MP sent out a tweet including an image of a house in Rochester swathed in England flags she was immediately judged harshly for the apparent sneer she was directing at a patriotic working-class voter.

This led to her resigning her post as shadow attorney general within days.

I’ll advised comments made can now race around the world in a Twitter storm as happened to Tim Hunt, the Nobel laureate, whose career was ended within days of making sexist remarks during a conference in Korea.

Jon Ronson’s book So You’ve Been (Publicly) Shamed works through many cases of disproportionate punishment meted out to witless Twitterers who have crossed a line. The digital world may have intensified our proneness to judging and being judged in return. But it didn’t create that need, it just feeds ancient appetites. Rather like cheap fast food, so ubiquitously available today, that satisfies ancient evolved cravings for sugar and fat, we now can access mechanisms on a scale never seen before that feed the deep yearning we have for giving and receiving social judgement.

I was caught by a simple question recently, from a man who lives in difficult conditions in Zimbabwe. ‘Why do people in the West ever commit suicide?’ he asked. The question asks how it could be that life could seem unliveable when the profound hardships and deprivations that so many in the world still face have been so abundantly overcome. But we also, despite a culture that encourages us to fill up on luxuries, sense that consumption and material needs met do not ultimately satisfy. This observation also invites us to think about the comparisons we make with others and the standards we are then set by which we might see ourselves as failing. The internal judge of ourselves, based on such comparison, is often the hardest critic we face. In looking at and judging others’ lives, we can value our own by those lights, and this can lead to imagining their judgements of us in return. This in turn can lead to internalizing those verdicts, and often to finding ourselves so wanting as to make life seem worth less. Far from the optimistic assumption that our needs become more optional as they move from the primitive basics of food, clothing, shelter and ascend into the more abstract domain of self-esteem and recognition (as Maslow’s pyramid suggests), the need to feel justified in our lives, however physically comfortable, is just as profound as the need to thrive on a more basic level.

There is something poignant in Samuel Johnson’s observation that ‘every man, however hopeless his pretensions may appear to all but himself, has some project by which he hopes to rise to reputation; some art by which he imagines that the notice of the world will be attracted’. It is poignant because we can picture such hope with no guarantee that it will be well met. Or maybe that we picture it will be met with harsh critique or possibly worse indifference; the vulnerable hoper is exposed callously to the depleted language of being ‘a nobody’ instead of ‘a somebody’, let alone a VIP.

As with economic and other resources, the judgement of others is very unevenly distributed. Some are rich with recognition, applause, goodwill, trust, reputation and others are starved of a good word. This would be bad enough if this uneven spread of good judgement were based on something approaching a fair and rational set of assessments. The courts dispensing ‘blind justice’ claim to be the emblem, if not the reality, of this ideal. But the worst of it is that the judgements we dispense on a daily basis are flawed in many ways and are unfairly distributed because they are driven by seIf-serving, hypocritical and skewed perceptions of each other, as I will explore in detail in this book.

This unequal distribution is intimately tied up with other kinds of inequality. Recent newspaper articles have talked about how the middle classes create a glass floor for their children. They have resources to ensure no child of theirs falls below a certain level of attainment and expectation in life no matter their lack of intellectual or other merits, and crucially this is because they have opportunities to increase their confidence in the world: their preparedness to expect to be well judged. As the acutely observant sociologist Erving Goffman commented over fifty years ago:

“In an important sense there is only one complete unblushing male in America: a young, married, white, urban, northern, heterosexual, Protestant father of college education, fully employed, of good complexion, weight, and height, and a recent record in sports . . . . Any male who fails to qualify in any of these ways is likely to view himself during moments at least as unworthy, incomplete, and inferior.”

By this account the vast majority of people are stigmatized one way or another. They have ‘spoiled identities’ in Goffman’s language. I don’t imagine this inequality will change any more easily than other entrenched unfairnesses that plague our society, but there may be benefit in exploring the strange texture of social judgement so as to avoid at least some of those pitfalls. In this book I want to explore the mechanisms of social judgement which happen every day so as to better understand the uncomfortable outcomes we seem to take for granted. And one of these uncomfortable outcomes is the feeling of isolation arising from the uneasy sense that people don’t truly understand us.

A tour of this book

When assessing claims it is understandable to ask for the evidence, and this often means scientific evidence. Evidence and argument are critically important in supporting claims, and it is thanks to this scientific principle that we can distinguish between effective medicines and magic, between bridges that will carry the weight of traffic versus those that will not. But these are relatively ‘tame’ problems. The scientific method will not always offer satisfying explanations of more complex phenomena, which are not so tame. By contrast many of our concerns in social life have instead the characteristics of ‘wicked problems’. ‘Wicked problem’ is a term used to describe a problem that does not have right or wrong answers (though hopefully better or worse ones); it is usually so uniquely set in a context that you can’t easily generalize from it; and the attempt to identify the dense array of underlying causes changes dramatically depending on what frame of reference you are using.

Many of the major social concerns of our times, such as inequality, good relationships, satisfying work or general well-being fall into the category of ‘wicked’. If you want to understand why unhappy families are unhappy in their own way (as Tolstoy said in the opening line of Anna Karenina) the sources of evidence and the nature of the argument will be a much wider array than falls within the ambit of experimental science.

And so it is with judgement in my view. Our ambivalent relationship with judgement, our often partial and unreasonable mechanisms for deploying it, and our flawed dreams of escape from that kind of scrutiny certainly can be illuminated by the work of experimental psychology. And I will be drawing on this work throughout the book. But this is also true of the more qualitative insights to be gleaned from philosophy, psychoanalytic traditions, anthropology, sociology, as well as those other deep repositories of human knowledge, popular culture and literature.

To deny this is to resemble the drunk man who leaves a pub one night and goes to the carpark to find his car. On his way, he realizes he has lost his keys. So he goes over to the nearest lamppost to search around for them. A policewoman looking on starts to help him, but after a few minutes of fruitless searching asks whether that’s in fact where he lost them and the drunk answers, ‘No, I lost them over there’, pointing over to an area in the surrounding darkness. The policewoman, puzzled asks him, ‘Then why are you looking for your keys here, if you lost them over there?’, to which the man replies, ‘Ah, because this is where the light is good.’ It is understandable to look for more certainty than can be had when investigating a phenomenon, and this ‘streetlight effect’ is a tendency to rely on what is more measurable than what might be more insightful even if harder to explore rigorously. Wicked problems often require that we peer into the dark.

Experimental psychologists nevertheless can help us see some features of human nature that generalize across human experience, and shed light on this by arranging the world to show up these daily illusions. They ask people to imagine a stone being dropped from a plane and then to guess where it would land. By showing the gap between our guesses (straight down) and the reality (miles ahead, we overlook the fact the plane is moving so fast), they can skilfully illuminate the biases and preoccupations that can fuel our outlook on the world. But in looking for such common features it is easy to overlook the very particular experiences that we as individuals encounter every day. An ultra-social animal trades in judgements because reputations are of the highest importance, but the particular experience of such judgement is highly contextualized and unique to the setting in question. To develop some insight into these it is valuable to look to films and novels and other forms of popular culture which tell particular stories set in a particular context. To understand the choices involved in developing a reputation we might turn to the compelling and specific story of Walter White in the hit TV series Breaking Bad as much as to generalizable experimental data. As the psychologist Dan McAdams puts it, ‘As artists we each fashion a singular, self-affirming life. As scientists, we notice how the life we have fashioned resembles certain other lives; we detect similarities, regularities and trends.’ Emphasizing the general over the unique, psychology tends to lump while literature splits.

In the spirit of a multi-level approach I draw on these diverse sources to build a picture that I hope more faithfully reflects the complex, ‘wicked’ reality, rather than to boil it down merely to what can be determined in the lab. I hope that this diversity of enquiry will also make for a more interesting read and help to justify the judgement you made in picking this book up in the first place.

I start with a tour of the social minefields in which we operate. As we tiptoe our way through convention and expectation, the threat of being judged ill plagues us and exposes us to many forms of social pain. Anxieties about awkwardness, embarrassment and guilt, shame’s fellow travellers, police our behaviour in profound ways, leading us to find ways to cope by hiding; by veiling our speech and our behaviour. People vary in the skill and knowledge they can use to develop good enough technique. Most of us move somewhere between seeming cool or chic on the one hand, and awkward and gauche on the other, micro-managing impressions as best we can along the way.

Zoom out from the micro-analysis of impression management and you start to see how reputations rise and fall over time. This is the subject of the next chapter. Reputations are some of the most valuable assets a social animal can accrue. In particular, the best reputations need to manage an unlikely tradeoff between being seen as well motivated on the one hand, and as competent or skilled on the other: both moral and able, to put it simply. But no one builds a reputation in isolation. It is granted. Whether you are deemed moral or able, both or neither of these of course lies in the eye of the beholder.

Unfortunately, the beholder’s eye is an unreliable one; the subject of Chapter 3. The lessons learned about how we deploy social and moral judgements on each other are sobering. We are laden with implicit biases, moral flinches and yuk reactions, alongside self-serving and hypocritical judgements which are coloured by the group allegiances to which we subscribe. Recent research in social and moral psychology, which I’ll explore in this chapter, reveals the scale of these tendencies. Our judgements of each other are far from a fair-minded and neutral assessment, however much we might persuade ourselves to see them in that light.

. . .

*

from

Judged, The Value of Being Misunderstood

by Ziyad Marar

get it at Amazon.com