Happiness and sanity are an impossible combination, Mark Twain once remarked. Fortunately, a new study suggests, happiness and healthy blood pressure make better bedfellows. The authors, both economists, found a strong inverse correlation between reported rates of hypertension and well-being in 16 European countries. Nations whose citizens report the highest levels of satisfaction with their lives (Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden) also report the lowest incidence of high blood pressure, while countries with the lowest rates of happiness (Italy, Portugal, Germany) suffer elevated rates of high blood pressure. Nearly half the respondents in countries with the lowest hypertension rates pronounced themselves very satisfied with life, while less than a quarter of respondents in countries with the highest blood pressure said the same. The authors caution that they don’t have a good explanation for the link between the two sets of data. But they argue that as governments look to develop policies that expand well-being rather than wealth, they should factor blood pressure into their calculations.
—“Hypertension and Happiness Across Nations,” David G. Blanchflower and Andrew J. Oswald, National Bureau of Economic Research
In April, tens of thousands of Pakistanis protested in the streets of Karachi after an Islamic cleric, the head of one of the country’s many madrasas (religious schools), called for the government to impose Islamic law throughout the coun-try. According to a new report by the International Crisis Group on madrasas and violence in Pakistan’s largest city, the protesters had reason to be worried. Since 9/11, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has repeatedly promised to crack down on the madrasas that train new generations of would-be jihadists, but his rhetoric has produced little action. Each promise has been “invariably followed by retreat,” states the report, and five years after his government launched the ambitious Madrasa Reform Project, the effort is “in shambles”: Mosques and madrasas are training and exporting fighters to Afghanistan and Kashmir, illegally seizing land to expand their sway over urban neighborhoods, and calling for jihad and sectarian violence. In Karachi, which may be home to more than 1,000 madrasas, suicide attacks in 2006 killed a U.S. diplomat, the country’s most prominent Shia political leader, and the entire leadership of a Sunni militant group. The report recommends that Musharraf follow through on his pledge to crack down on extremism, though it acknowledges the political risks: National elections are coming up this fall, and he depends on religious voters for much of his political support. But without meaningful change in the country’s educational system, the report warns, “the madrasas and the violent extremism they encourage are likely to become even more powerful.”