01 April 2008

Gross National Happiness?

How Happy Are You? The US Government Wants to Know
Tue Apr 1, 2008 10:47am EDT
By Erving Iocus

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The US government wants you to be happy. Or at least, they want to know just how happy you are.

In the latest twist on the rich taking from the poor, the US government has announced plans to borrow a quality of life indicator with its origins in the impoverished Himalayan nation of Bhutan.

Announced by Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez, the new indicator, called Gross National Happiness, would seem to fly in the face of accepted economic practice in the US, which has long favored economic growth measured by the Gross Domestic Product as the most important indicator of national well-being.

The concept of Gross National Happiness originated in 1972 when Bhutan's King Jigme Singye Wangchuck struck on it as a way to quantify his aims to build an economy that served the unique spiritual and social conditions of his nation, not focus on the narrow indicator of economic growth.

The timing of the US announcement is curious, coming as it does at a time of growing national unhappiness with the Iraq war, the economy, and President Bush himself, whose approval rating is as low as 27% by one recent CBS poll. While some dismiss the move as a political strategy aimed at capitalizing on the popular presidential campaign theme of “hope,” others say that the time is right for a new view of what constitutes success and progress.

"Materialism is toxic for happiness," says University of Illinois psychologist Ed Diener. “Even rich materialists aren't as happy as those who care less about getting and spending.”

The Gross National Happiness index will attempt to quantify the well being of a nation using a number of indicators:

• Economic Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of economic metrics such as consumer debt, average income to consumer price index ratio and income distribution
• Environmental Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of environmental metrics such as pollution, noise and traffic
• Physical Wellness: Indicated via statistical measurement of physical health metrics such as severe illnesses
• Mental Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of mental health metrics such as usage of antidepressants and rise or decline of psychotherapy patients
• Workplace Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of labor metrics such as jobless claims, job change, workplace complaints and lawsuits
• Social Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of social metrics such as discrimination, safety, divorce rates, complaints of domestic conflicts and family lawsuits, public lawsuits, crime rates
• Political Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of political metrics such as the quality of local democracy, individual freedom, and foreign conflicts.

Gutierrez did not say how the new index might impact the government’s economic or social policies.
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3 comments:

bennydog said...

Clearly capitalism eats the human heart. I am a 53 year old actor who has "appropriated" Sufism as a salve for my soul. Sometimes I wonder just how appropriate it is for a man raised in a fundamental Church of Christ to even utter the word Muslim. But I am making my path.

It seems as everyone is looking for their heart. Some in a bottle, or Ambien or music or cute tops and shoes. We must figure out how to instill some sense of the heart and its function in our country.

Maybe the "GNP" will open some door. Of course, Hallmark will have a card ridiculing it soon, so there goes that notion.

S A Stevens said...

Thanks for your comment, bennydog... Alas, while I love the idea of Gross National Happiness, this story is an April Fools entry. Not true, at least not for now. I hope we'll move more in that direction as it becomes clearer to more people that "economic growth" is unsustainable and does not, in any case, increase the overall happiness of the people involved in creating it.

I've been reading Eric Weiner's The Geography of Bliss recently, in which he talks about visiting Bhutan. He also cites a study that shows happiness rising along with income only to a certain point, after which additional income does not result in additional happiness. That point, according to the study, is $15,000 per year. Food for thought, no?

Anna Maria 19 said...

how cruel here i am looking for a blog for my esl venezuelan students to read and it´s an april fools joke. haha Actually I have been fascinate with bhutan since i was a kid (well more of a kid i guess) and it really is interesting, the idea of happiness i mean. I have heard that a person has a certain level of personal happiness that it is unlikely to change throughout their lives. Despite what they do. Heard from a friend who is studying paych though so not so sure about the validity but it makes sense to me.