Here’s proof that consumerism doesn’t by happiness.
Donna and I spent our honeymoon on Vanuatu and on the island of Tanna we met the happiest people ever living in dirt floored huts. And here’s me, reading this after having one hell of a stressful week and just recovering from sickness after my immune system crashed.
I am seriously considering downshifting. Seriously.
8 thoughts on “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”
when you’re needs are simple it doesn’t take much to make you happy
they probably don’t have hundreds of advertisements bombarding them everday telling them what wondrous things they absolutely need
we lived in PNG for 2 years, same thing there, although TV was taking off strongly and the western materialism was creeping in
I saw one of the news reports for this concerning Australia’s low rank; and a similar item from the BBC with the focus on England in relation to Vanuatu.
I wonder though about the inferences drawn from the study, and lying behind it the criteria selected to measure the scale of happiness.
In one sense the “happiness” factor is a peculiar contribution of modern American culture, especially as seen via Disneyland.”Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” was the slogan of the colonial revolution (adapted from John Locke’s life liberty and property).
I also wonder about whether those who conducted the study over-looked somethings in general, and then specifically with respect to Vanuatu.
It interests me that Vanuatu is ranked number 1 in the study.It is noted in the news reports that Vanuatu is a small nation, with a small economy, and it is not hugely prosperous when compared to leading technological and industrial nations.
Why I am intrigued and wonder about the scope and soundness of the study is that Vanuatu is home to one of the most interesting and persistent “cargo cults” in all of Melanesia. The movement is known as the Jon Frum Movement. Its origins extend back to the 1930s under French colonialism. The movement was spurred on in World War 2 when the US military established a base there.
The indigenes noticed how black American servicemen were in uniform, held ranks, were saluted, etc. Alongside of this came the astonishing array of goods and machines that the US military had at its disposal.
The Jon Frum movement incorporated into its ceremonies and rituals a flag raising ceremony (of the US!), replete with men standing in ranks with wooden sticks held up in imitation of a soldier holding a rifle on the shoulder. In the midst of this the oral message handed down (no written sacred text) was the role of the US as the saviour of Vanuatu and “Jon Frum, he come” will deliver the long awaited cargo. The Jon Frum movement, which is on Tanna, drew followers in and away from the dominant Presbyterian church. It also played a part in Vanuatu’s quest for independence from France.
The movement ensues to this day.
Happiness and material abundance are called into question by the survey (and biblically I would concur that material possessions and fiscal abundance do not equate to contentment, enjoyment or “happiness”). Yet Vanuatu’s cargo cult presents a conundrum for the survey. If the people of Vanuatu are indeed constituted as being the “happiest” people, then why has this cargo cult endured for almost 80 years especially with its interest in material cargo that has yet to be delivered? The Jon Frum outlook links the cargo to “salvation”. In light of that it seems that the indigenes at least on Tanna do associate salvation and happiness with material cargo and they expect it to arrive in the future. Since it has not yet arived, there is much more here than perhaps was accounted for in the study of happiness.
You can read a BBC report from 2004 on Jon Frum at
There is also a profile on it from the Feb 2006 edition of the Smithsonian magazine at
And for good measure the movement seems to have its own website at
Philip, I recently posted this on a Pagan-Christian dialogue forum I participate in when the John Frum movement came up:
“My wife and I actually met these cargo-cultist tribes on our honeymoon.
It was many moons ago now but I remember it vividly. We stayed on Tanna for a few days and were driven by a guide to meet the villiagers. Our guide himself was scarcely civilized (he regarded a can of coke we bought him with awe as it was price equivalent to expensive champaign to him, ate dogs by his own admission, and asked us about TVs) and the villagers were only one generation removed from head hunting practices.
The villagers we virtually naked and lived in dirt floored huts. The odd thing was union jacks painted on the sides of the huts and war memorabilia everywhere. We were the only non-cultists in the village on the day apart from our guide. They allowed the occasional tourists in you see, to earn enough for axes and oil, but didn’t want too many as it would undermine their lifestyle, so we felt both privileged and a little intimitated. This feeling seems to have been shared, as I bought a stone ax from them which I still have in my study, but they were very sheepish.
They all did a dance for us. The women jumping up and down with their arms crossed over their breasts to stop them bouncing too much and the men getting a little wilder.
We learnt that the men did stuff all to help the women do the work around the place as they were always bombed out on kava. Not your ideal pre-agrarian matriachal paganism you might say.
Amazing experience. The Prince Philip worship was truly bizzare.”
You raise points worthy of consideration, the kava addictions of the Cargo Cultists certainly raise questions. Yet they were only a minority of the archepelagos population, considered somewhat odd by the rest. And the smiles of some of the regular villiagers still stay with me now.
I can empathise with the need to simplify… but Prince Phiip worship???? this is indeed a strange world…
Mmmm, yes, and it will get decidedly stranger if Prince Charles ever gains the crown. I don’t know if I could cope with him as a demigod. Then again, some of you Brits have already deified Diana! Maybe there’s a cosmic leyline between Tanna and her shrine at Althorp, that you can draw energies from to boost your nations happiness, te he.
Ah Sally it might seem peculiar but is not unprecedented. Recall that Captain James Cook was venerated (though he did not realise it) as a deity in Hawaii on his first visit; and then on the return visit (in fulfilment of a myth)he had to die.
Queen Victoria became the object of veneration in the late 19th century too.
Both Prince Phillip and Prince Charles have been favoured by some Jon Frum people as the ones who may deliver the promised cargo.
While it might seem very “left field”, these examples serve to remind us that it is a very modern construct to regard religion as a privatised and inner affair. Religion in all shapes and sizes has always had an impact on human relationships that extends beyond family and tribal identities on to the social dimension, economics and politics. This by no means diminishes the “spiritual” element. However the fact that we are so accustomed to speaking of some things as “spiritual” and assuming other things are not is a sign of how much we inhabit a very modern western and secularised outlook.
Hi Im from Melbourne. I quite like these related essays on Happiness & Freedom
All, I have created a space for discussion of John Keyneton’s Da Free John devotions here. Please go there if you’d like to leave any related comments.