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Gross National Happiness

By Dianne Witte

Nic Marks, economist from British think tank, New Economics Foundation, gave a TED talk a few years ago, that captured my interest. I have listened to it every year since.  In it, he quotes, Robert Kennedy in a speech in 1968 as saying, “the Gross National Product measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile.” A link to the video is (http://www.you tube.com/watch?v=77idkfqxbuy). Marks indicates the GNP is an outdated measure. Indeed, it is old, dating back to a Harvard economist, Simon Kuznets, who created it to track progress during the Great Depression.  At the time he warned Congress that “the welfare of a nation can … scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income …” But, as we know, once a policy becomes entrenched in bureaucracy and culture, it sticks. According to a 2012 UN report, (http://www.livescience.com/ 19486-world-happiness-united-nations.html) since the 1960s, U.S. GDP per capita has doubled, but average happiness?…. It hasn’t budged.

Nic Marks, and NEF, suggest we use a Happy Planet Index to measure “what really matters.”  It would measure “good lives,” not the delivery of “more goods.” I’ve often thought news reports of the Dow Jones Industrial Average were out of touch with mainstream America. How many really care about the Dow Jones? Even if you can invest in stocks, when you are “sold” on stocks they tell you to look at the long range trends. If day to day reports aren’t important, why are they being put out there? Is it to put false importance on economics rather than things like progress in health and education? Instead, how about reporting on how many community organizations met that day or the level of fuel efficiency being achieved by corporations?

The idea of focusing on wellbeing was implemented in Bhutan, a mountainous country surrounded by Tibet and Nepal, in 2005, even before the Happy Planet Index. Bhutan established a national goal, “Gross National Happiness.” They created the world’s first Gross National Happiness Index—a comprehensive approach to measuring well-being that includes not only psychological well-being (life satisfaction, emotions, and spirituality), but also subjective assessments in eight other “domains” that include health, education, good governance, and ecological diversity and resilience.

Then, in 2011, Bhutan took leadership on the world stage. In July it sponsored, with 68 co-sponsors, UN resolution 65/309, “Happiness: Towards a Holistic Approach to Development,” which flatly stated that GDP doesn’t reflect the goal of “happiness” and declares that a “more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach is needed…”

UN General Assembly adopted the resolution by consensus and invited member states to take action. March 20, 2012 marked the world’s first International Happiness Day, declared by the UN to signal the importance of going beyond Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a measure of progress. A UN sponsored World Happiness Report was released. It showed that money and economic growth have a relatively weak correlation to happiness; happiness is much more strongly associated with things like community engagement, having lots of friends, doing work you love, and feeling a sense of trust in others. Altruism, too, is essential; a world that makes equity, care, and compassion more possible will be a happier world.

Have you heard of this? What is the US doing? Interestingly enough, there is activity in this regard – a website http://www.gnhusa.org/ It is a resource to disseminate information and coordinate activities in the US. Among the many opportunities for participation, they are promoting Pursuit of Happiness Day Sunday, April 13, 2014. The website offers a blog and mailing list to keep you up to date on happenings.

Haven’t heard too much about activity in Wisconsin other than in Eau Claire, where the city government is working with a local chamber of commerce, state university, boys and girls club, library, and other organizations to gather data and convene town meetings where residents can discuss ways to promote quality of life. They have a website, too. http://www. clearvisioneauclaire.org

The time has come for global action to build a new world economic system that is no longer based on the illusion that limitless growth is possible on our precious and finite planet. I’m on board. I’m a messenger. Are you called to participate or contribute? There are lots of resources on the internet from webinars, handbooks, surveys, toolkits, training sessions and more at http://www.happycounts.org/

Meanwhile, think about and practice the 5 ways to wellbeing suggested by Nic Marks:
1.       Connect
2.       Be Active
3.       Take Notice (Awareness)
4.       Keep Learning (Curiosity)
5.       Give (Time, Talents and Money)

Be aware. Be Happy. Celebrate International Day of Happiness March 20, and Pursuit of Happiness Day, April 13.

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