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Can I be worthless, yet still happy?

Opinion — Humanities student wants to find happiness without striking gold. Is he off his rocker? Has he not read the education minister's latest reports?

For a long time now, the narrative has been that value is the same as money. The greater the return on something, the better it is. The more you make, the better – the more happy you are. You get the same impression when you read the Danish Committee on Better Degree Programmes’ new report. A large part of the content and message of the report focusses on how the better the returns on a degree programme are, the more important the programme is for the entire Danish society.

Someone with a degree in the social sciences has a “calculated additional return on investment of approximately DKK 4 million compared to skilled workers.” By contrast, a humanities graduate has an approximate DKK -1 million compared to a skilled worker. In other words, a humanities graduate is worth less than the others, because the returns are lower. This is the narrative that society is giving its citizens. It is the narrative that the report presents to it decision-makers.

As a humanities student I will earn less than most of my fellow students from other faculties. I will also be affected, as the statisticians say, by a higher risk of becoming unemployed, and the labour market will generally be less favourable to me. That I am studying on the classical archaeology programme does not make the statistical odds any better for me.

If I one day get a PhD and postdoc position, I can look forward to a wide range of project hires, covers and temporary positions. This is, of course, if I’m lucky enough to get them in the first place. After some years of jumping from position to position I can look forward to a permanent position. I will just not “make a lot of money” off it.

 

I will be happy, because I have chosen a discipline which I have a passion for, and which will be able to give me a livelihood.
Sandi Rizvic

 

And yet, I still don’t get scared away from the humanities, opting for another education programme with a higher salary. It does not make me unhappy to think I won’t be disgustingly rich as a result of my education. Nor do I believe that I will be unhappy in the future, when I graduate as an archaeologist and play Lara Croft under a southern sun (probably, however, with fewer firearms and live dinosaurs around me). Why not?

When the report alludes to the fact that it is better to have more money. And when the narrative is, that happiness comes from more money. Then why am I not more concerned about it? Am I just weird? Is it just me that does not understand the importance of being rich?

You can ask yourself: If the humanities do not lead to a high financial return, why do they still exist? Because the humanities have a value that goes beyond the economic value that humanities students contribute to society. Most of the humanities’ value cannot be measured directly. The humanities is knowledge about people, their languages, their culture and their history. It is the acquisition of this ability to familiarise themselves with these matters in order to solve international conflicts with diplomacy. It is to know your own history and, in this way, attempt to avoid repeating mistakes. It is to come up with basic human rights as the right to freedom and the right to acquire knowledge. Humanities is an ongoing process of testing the thoughts and ideas that determine society and thereby, hopefully, change it for the better.

If financial benefit is the most important goal for our society, then there is really an even greater need for the humanities.

A study shows that there is an upper limit to the amount of money that makes you happy. At some point, all your emotional needs are fulfilled when you have enough money to not have to worry about the necessary things in life like a roof over your head, food, time for friendships and family, and have the opportunity to live your life as you wish.

When I one day graduate in the humanities go on to the labour market, I will not fear my statistically lower salary. I will be able to live a charmed and untroubled “rich” and valuable life anyway. Even though I might not to be able to afford semi expensive cars and large houses with garage space for them. I will be happy, because I have chosen a discipline which I have a passion for, and which will be able to give me a livelihood. It is not just a high financial return that defines my happiness.

If financial benefit is the most important goal for our society, then there is really an even greater need for the humanities.

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