Bank of Happiness - Estonia

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This article appeared in the Times of London. By Anjana Ahuja. [1]


“From dog-walking to rubbish clearance, civic-minded Estonians can now draw on a virtual Bank of Happiness which trades in good deeds. Anjana Ahuja reports from Tallinn

On one level, it was just a haircut. Peeter, a middle-aged IT manager, entrusted his diminishing locks to Nele, a young craftswoman armed with goodwill and a pair of scissors. By all accounts, Peeter was delighted with his newly shorn pate. On another level, though, the clash of keratin against blades that took place in a Tallinn apartment last month was historic. For the cut was given free, with no exchange of cash or other payment, and is recorded as the first official transaction carried out by the Bank of Happiness in Estonia.”

Some details on the philosophy of the project, from cofounder Tiina Urm:

““We call it a bank because we want to bring forth a new set of values”, says Tiina Urm, a 26-year-old who helped to think up the idea and is the closest thing that the Bank of Happiness has to a manager. “At the moment we are glued to other people only through money. But that’s not how we evolved as a society. We used to work as a team.

This is not about turning Estonia into a money-free republic: “We just want to create a network where people don’t pay for what they need but get it from each other. It’s a way of allowing people, especially those who have lost their jobs, to keep doing what they do — and to bring people together.”

The bank is not meant to be a centralised, Soviet-style prescription for paradise.

The Bank of Happiness is not necessarily peddling reciprocation — a teenager might fetch a weekly shop for an elderly neighbour, even if the neighbour would be unable to do much in return. Instead, a stranger who has seen the good deed listed by the neighbour online will step in to help the teenager.

The bank is hoping to create virtuous arcs, rather than circles, of unadulterated altruism all over Estonia, with the feeling of goodness serving as its own reward. The helper also receives tangible evidence of his kindness: a “banknote” — printable from the bank’s website — offered by the grateful recipient in lieu of money, inscribed on the back with the date and nature of the deed. The note can then be passed on to another good Samaritan. And there is no system of equations to codify how one deed compares with another; the system will be self-regulatory.

If you think that this sounds like a recipe for freeloading, then you, like me, underestimate the optimism running through Estonian veins. ”

Journalist Anjana Ahuja also details the cultural revolution taking place, showed in the reactions to the project:

“Every young person I stopped to ask about it — the older ones tended not to speak English — said that they would register.

The response of Evelin Tamm, an 18-year-old student, was typical: “I think young people would love to do this. Not everything has to be based on money. I love to clean and to babysit. Perhaps, in return, someone could help me with my maths and physics.” (