April 21, 2021

The Surprising Magnitude of Trust

Guest Opinion
By Mary Keyes Rogers | April 3, 2021

It’s here! It’s here! The 2021 World Happiness Report is here! Maybe you missed the big news?

I understand. When you are trying to stay alive, happiness becomes a low priority. Happy? Who’s happy? I’m happy to have toilet paper and a ham in my freezer.

Here’s what you need to know: This data-rich report is has been published each year since 2011 in response to a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly that invited national governments to "give more importance to happiness and well-being in determining how to achieve and measure social and economic development." 

Unsurprisingly, the theme of this year’s report is Life Under COVID-19. In truth, the state of the world has created an interesting petri dish for measuring happiness during a worldwide pandemic. 

Although the shadow cast by the pandemic has changed how we go about living our lives, the data gleaned from the Gallup World Poll remained the same as the prior years: income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust, and generosity.

According to those who know about the ins and outs of happiness, these are the factors that matter.

I’m no different than every other human who reads this report. The publishers note that readers first want to know how their home country ranks (the United States ranks 14th out of 149), followed by which country came in last place (Afghanistan at 149), who is the happiest (Finland, four years running), and finally, a curiosity to know why the highest-ranking countries are so damn happy. 

This year’s report emphasizes that under the COVID-19 microscope, one metric stands out in its importance to happiness. More than income, freedom, generosity, social support, or healthy life expectancy.

Trust.

Well, no wonder the U.S.A. isn’t getting the gold medal this year. Trust has been circling the drain since the Watergate scandal, and the suction of that drain is pulling like a firehose in reverse, stronger now than ever before.

Until reading this report in full, I never considered the magnitude of trust in my personal level of happiness. Have you? 

Let’s look at trust from different views. Do you trust your spouse, your employer, or your next-door neighbor to treat you fairly and with respect?

Then, pulling your view back a bit, do you trust that the cashier will give you the correct change and that the chef won’t spit in your food? Do you trust the northern Michigander who finds your lost wallet to return it? What if you lost that wallet in Detroit or Los Angeles?

Do you feel secure in the trustworthiness of news sources, government data, and the algorithms of your social media?

Do you trust the results of last year’s elections?

Consider your elected representatives: Are they working in the best interest of citizens? Are they competent? Do you expect corruption? Do you trust your public institutions and the people who operate them?

In its 2021 Best States analysis, U.S. News and World Report ranks Michigan 38th of the 50 States based on over 70 metrics including health care, education, fiscal stability, economy, infrastructure, opportunity, crime and corruption, natural resources. The Center for Public Integrity notes Michigan’s legislature has earned an “F” in government transparency. 

Michigan’s legislature has delayed the spending of federal COVID-19 relief funds as a maneuver of political leverage. Is this for real? Trust them?

In Grand Traverse County, you need only to look at the Traverse City Public School Board or the County Commission to see a public institution suffering from trust drain.

From the widest view of our nation, how can we possibly trust our political parties, the president or members of Congress when they are funded by special interest groups and corporations whose first priority is profit to shareholders?

It is nonsensical to believe that the best interests of our citizens or nation could be of their highest priority.

As Thomas Jefferson noted in 1809, "The care of human life and happiness and not their destruction is the first and only legitimate object of good government.” Really? I think this ideal has been not only lost on our leadership but as an expectation of our citizens.

The very basis of our economic system works against a sense of trust. How could it be otherwise? 

In my personal micro-trust review, I do trust the people of northern Michigan, believing we are good neighbors, good people. But pulling my perspective to the macro-view of the greater population and our public institutions, my trust quickly and astonishingly drains to what might fill a teaspoon. 

We deserve better, but first we must commit to expecting trustworthiness as the lowest common denominator in our elected officials and institutions. The relationship between human nature and capitalism makes this ideal seem very unlikely.

My opinion of the findings within the 2021 World Happiness Report is that after considering the matter of trust, and how little of that commodity exists in this country right now, I’m surprised the U.S. managed to come in at 14th and not lower.

Mary Rogers is the host of "The Experience 50 Podcast for Midlife" and an actively engaged citizen of Grand Traverse County. She lives in Traverse City.

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