Media should pay more attention to happiness, less to dirty laundry

SEAN PLUNKET
Last updated 05:00 19/05/2012
Erica Chadwick
CHRIS SKELTON/Fairfax NZ
HIGH ON LIFE: Erica Chadwick shared the secrets of happiness in her research.

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OPINION: Graduation week in Wellington is an optimistic time. Hundreds of bright young things can be seen walking the streets with an air of achievement and satisfaction that signifies they have gained some level of tertiary success.

I guess graduation week is an indication that the so called "knowledge economy" is at least partly working and we are producing a fair swag of tertiary qualified Kiwis who have the smarts to get ahead and contribute to this country, (or indeed, head off overseas and earn enough to pay back their student loans).

One PhD graduate from Victoria was featured in the pages of this newspaper yesterday. Erica Chadwick researched the pursuit of happiness and found a fair disconnect between Kiwis celebration of and attitude to achievement and that of folk in her native home, America.

She found that while Americans are keen to whoop whoop, high five and generally tell the world about their successes, New Zealanders are more likely to exercise restraint.

It would be good if we paid some attention to Dr Chadwick's findings and learnt to celebrate our successes more.

Certainly things are changing. Twenty years ago the idea of a senior rugby player or an All Black celebrating a try was frowned upon.

Not any more. Fist pumping, back slapping and even the odd impromptu haka is now perfectly acceptable on any sports field when a goal has been scored, a try touched down or a match won.

All that makes sport, for both participant and spectator, more enjoyable; in short, a happier experience which would tend to support Dr Chadwick's proposition that being in the moment, sharing positive news with people and embracing achievement are all important factors in the pursuit of happiness.

But sport aside, I'm not sure New Zealand is very good at those things.

Much as I am loathe to align myself too closely with Prime Minister John Key, I think the media may have a fair bit to do with that.

The fascination with the shock, the horror and the probe seems to leave ever decreasing room for the uplifting, the heart-warming and the positive stories about ourselves and our country.

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Certainly the media shouldn't be Pollyanna-like cheerleaders who ignore crime and social ills but sometimes you have to wonder if its pursuit of the petty and negative isn't damaging our national happiness.

Take Wednesday's New Zealand Herald which devoted most of its front page to a story about ministerial expenses.

"We're paying for flash hotels and laundry," screamed the headline. Sure enough, an Official Information Act Request from the Herald revealed Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman had spent $190 to get two shirts, two pairs of socks and two pairs of grundies cleaned in London, Brussels and Melbourne.

Trade Minister Tim Grosser paid $10,829 for a week at a hotel in Geneva including a laundry bill of $491.

Now apart from telling me that international hotels can charge like wounded bulls and that ministers (like the rest of us) like wearing clean clothes, this breathless story left me cold.

It might have been interesting to know what Ministers Coleman and Grosser achieved during their (quite properly) taxpayer-funded travels, what positive achievements came out of their meetings and how our national interests had been advanced. But clearly the Herald couldn't afford to send its intrepid reporters to Geneva or Brussels, their suitcases packed with underwear so they wouldn't have to pay for laundry. Instead, it just filed an Official Information Act Request, which taxpayer-funded officials would have spent hours responding to, in the hope it could generate the simplistic and sensationalist headline "Ministers' High Life".

So warmest congratulations to everyone who graduated this week, thanks to Dr Chadwick for her research on happiness, and here's hoping all you bright young things don't take off overseas to live, work and pay taxes in another country which isn't so obsessed with literally discussing politicians' dirty laundry in public

- The Dominion Post

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