Here in New Zealand, the morning commuter train into town is crowded and silent. Everybody had their headphones or their cellphones. Nobody talks. Nobody meets anyobody else's eyes. 20022135
OPINION: I have seen wellbeing in Cook Islands.
It is found in our connection to each other. Here in New Zealand, it is harder to find.
Well-being. It seems to be the catch-phase in a number of countries, but what exactly does it mean? What does well-being mean in the Cook Islands, what could that look like, and how do we even know if we are living lives that capture this idea?
American economist Ben Bernanke said: “The ultimate purpose of economics, of course, is to understand and promote the enhancement of wellbeing.”
And yet for all the wealth and things we can accumulate, does this equate to well-being?
In the Cook Islands I have seen wellbeing. It is found in connection, it is found in the many things we consider small, that are in fact huge and in those things we can easily miss and lose so much more then we realise.
I so miss saying hello to everyone on the way to work, looking over at the ocean as it breaks on Kavera’s reef, and having the time to actually look at people, to be seen.
Here in New Zealand, I jump on the train each morning at Porirua for the 30-minute ride, packed as sardines. There is silence as bulky headphones and cellphones ensure each person is in their own world and disconnected from the many standing and sitting with them.
“Good morning,” I try, a few times.
Often it’s met with surprise – “ahh good morning” – then back to their phone, flicking through seemingly endless news feeds and trivia, fake news, photos of other people’s lives and other peoples dramas.
We don’t tell people we like them, or that we like what they say; we do just a simple tap on a screen and it is done.
But is that wellbeing, is that what we can call social media? Or is it more a voyeuristic media?
Wellbeing, it is about connection and if there is anything that is taonga for the Cook Islands, apart from our language and culture, it is our ability to connect. Our ability to actually like someone, or what they do or stand for.
To actually love someone, and at times to not like what some ones says or does and to just disagree. Because that means wellbeing also.
In New Zealand they have just created a Ministry of Social Wellbeing as they move with this adjustment, and have taken away the idea of social investment.
At times governments can be caught up in the idea that investment means wellbeing, but I would suggest that the two are completely different.
I think there is so much that we can share with the world and we do with every visitor to our beautiful Ipukarea, what wellbeing means and especially connection.
So we must be cautious about ever finding ourselves drifting down the road of measuring a country’s wellbeing by dollars and cents and economic terms like investment.
Maybe if we considered wellbeing instead of investment, we wouldn’t consider a $50 increase to the pension or the slight increase to the minimum wage as meeting wellbeing for our people.
Moving away from the simplistic view that throwing investment by way of money at people alone will bring wellbeing, will bring a sense of flourishing and a sense of benefiting and being a co-designer of this country we live in, and not a spectator, on the outside looking in.
Wellbeing is not measured in metrics, it is not understood in dollars and cents, though this is a contributing factor and why it is called a living wage.
A living wage is apparently $18,000 a year here in the Cook Islands. I fail to understand how anyone can do a mathematical equation and come up with living, and $18,000, as even fair, equitable or a wage anyone could live on.
I hazard to guess that those who crunch these sorts of figures are enjoying living wages well above $18,000, and the reality of what living on it is like is far from their daily experience.
Which is why GDP or gross domestic product is being phased out by progressive governments as a primary measure of wellbeing for their people.
And it is, for me, a welcome change. For anyone who has worked with those well under the “living wage” in Rarotonga or the Pa Enua knows they are living lives sometimes close to destitute, living on the bare necessities of life and with little power for change.
That is not wellbeing.
In the end I believe that we should be a fair and equitable society, where wealth is shared, where resources are managed with consideration, and where power is not concentrated in certain people or families.
This idea of wellbeing was captured in the words of our first Prime Minister, Albert Henry, in his plea: that no one in the tribe should be left behind.