Recently, UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced that the UK Office of National Statistics will assemble a National Happiness Index. This idea was greeted with mixed feelings by the populace, some pleased at the idea of measuring more than just the movement of money, others pointing out that this announcement was made to distract from the severe austerity measures (extreme budget cuts) made by the UK government.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Gross National Product as the total value of the goods and services produced by the residents of a nation during a specified period (as a year). The idea behind a Gross National Happiness is to include factors measuring quality of life, not just production.
The Kingdom of Bhutan has been measuring Gross National Happiness since 1972, when King Wangchuck was crowned.
According to Time magazine: “Wangchuck still maintains that economic growth does not necessarily lead to contentment, and instead focuses on the four pillars of GNH: economic self-reliance, a pristine environment, the preservation and promotion of Bhutan’s culture, and good governance in the form of a democracy.”
The New Economics Foundation in the UK worked on the 2006 Happy Planet Index, measuring the impact of people on the environment and contrasting it against their fulfillment in life. A second study was released in 2009, and their website, HappyPlanetIndex.org, allows visitors to measure their own actions against world averages. The UK-based survey measures different criteria than the Bhutan government cites as its four main pillars. Among other topics, the UK seeks to measure respondent’s connection to and participation in local government. The survey available on the New Economics Foundation Site included genetic predispositions for health concerns, nutrition, exercise, stress, income, carbon foot print, social and community connection, volunteerism, general attitude about life, sense of personal freedom, spending habits and housing choices.
Jock and I each took the survey and we were surprised by the results. I scored a 53.5 (out of 100), and Jock came in at 46.7. (The world average is 46 with a target score of 83.) Since I am very pessimistic about life, and quite moody, it was surprising that Jock, the living embodiment of Polyanna, scored lower than me. Then, when we began to compare the breakdown of the scores, it quickly became clear what had driven his score down: Because of his work, his carbon footprint is bigger than mine from spending so much time on international flights.
This is by no means a perfect survey, but it is an interesting opportunity to glimpse on a personal level what economists are discussing. For me, much of what drove up my scores in personal satisfaction and community connection came from the decision to live locally and embrace the small and regionally owned businesses in our community.
Canada is starting to discuss the possibility of adopting a similar measurement to the UK’s Happiness Index. France has invited Joseph Steglitz, the 2001 winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, to develop a more meaningful measurement of national prosperity. In lectures, Steglitz cites deforestation as an example of the GNP’s failure to accurately measure economic growth. Selling lots of hardwood for export might look great on paper, but depleting a country of valuable natural resources is not a sustainable long term economic policy.
The decision is surprising: that a major first world would evaluate the sustainability of their economy, and the impact of economic policy on the daily lives of the citizenry. However, to have a vehicle to measure the satisfaction derived from one’s participation in the economic system could go a long way toward shifting focus from big companies to the importance of small business. Let us hope so.
Gwenyfar Rohler is the author of “The Promise of Peanuts. A real life fairy tale about a man, a village, and the promise that bound them together.” Available at www.OldBooksonFrontSt.com. All Profits go to Full Belly Project, www.Fullbellyproject.org.