Published in the Namib Times, 3 May 2013.By Marcia Stanton
This place makes you feel part of creation, a place that puts you in touch with your soul. It’s so vast it takes your breath away. Because the land is so infinite and so untouched it delivers a sense of calm and peace.
This is what tourists visiting Namibia say according to personal interviews with the Namibia Tourism Board. People come to Namibia to get away from the stress created in more developed countries. Stress is a huge problem in the world and there are over 326 million internet sites available to help us deal with it.
Although some people think that money can buy happiness, the truth is that affluence is the main cause of stress. Many prosperous countries and people are facing increased stress because of the wealth they have. People come to Namibia to get away from this stress and tourism is ranked as one of the four pillars in Namibia’s economy for this reason.
Our bodies were not designed to take the type of stress many now face with loud noise, crowding, or pollution. If you put a bird in a cage with no access to the natural world, it will pluck all its feathers out. Similarly, if you put humans in a place with little access to a clean environment, they will develop ailments like depression and/or addictions. Whether we like it or not, our body recognises nature as being good for us and things contrary to nature as bad for us.
The “Happy Planet Index” has exposed the issue of environmental stress and has alternatively ranked countries according to sustainability and happiness with the overall score determined by factors including wellbeing, life expectancy and the impact on the environment. Many developed countries are worse off than less-developed countries in terms of happiness. Costa Rica ranks as the happiest country along with nine countries from Latin America and the Caribbean in the top ten ranking.
Namibia is ranked 96 of 151 countries with lower life-expectancy and income inequality being the main factors behind the poor ranking. Even with these negative factors, Namibia is happier than the well-developed country of the United States which is ranked at 105. Namibia also fares better than our neighbours South Africa (ranked 142) and Botswana (ranked the worst at 151).
We have income inequality in common with our neighbours as a major factor leading to unhappiness. According to a Mail and Guardian analysis, mining is the key driver behind income inequality and causes a greater division between rich and poor. Namibia, South Africa and Botswana all have a rich supply of minerals and are the three most unequal countries in the world.
So what is it that puts Namibia at an advantage over the United States, South Africa and Botswana in terms of happiness? Our vast environment raises our ranking and without it we would be very unhappy indeed. We damage the environment less and this is our saving grace. We live in an arid Eden that delivers a sense of calm and peace. Where would we be without it?