Back to Listing

Happiness Counts

13 September 2011

You’ve all heard of GNP (Gross National Product)? 

Well honestly how could you avoid this widely used measure of how a country’s doing internationally.  There are rankings for 228 countries and, when the figures are adjusted for purchasing power, Australia ranks Number 18 with our average earnings being $41,000 p.a. 

Meanwhile the small (700,000 people) Himalayan Constitutional Monarchy of Bhutan comes in at Number 142 in the rankings, with their citizens earning an average of $5500 a year.  Not much is it? 

Yet on other measures, call it well-being or happiness, an incredible 97% of Bhutanese say they are happy.  Wow - isn’t that what we all want?

I learned a lot about Global Happiness when I attended the Happiness and Economic Development Conference in Bhutan this August.

It turns out that economists are at the forefront of measuring happiness.  They use two basic measures - which correlate very highly - day to day happiness (how happy were you yesterday?) and life satisfaction (how happy are you with your life?).

Just for a taste of what I learned let me introduce you to the U-bend of life.  Would you believe that you’re happier at 65 and over than you’ve been since you were 18?  Honestly, it’s true.  Life is not “a slow decline from sunlit uplands towards the valley of death. It is, rather, a U-bend.” 

And this U-bend seems to be universal and holds in countries as different as the Ukraine, Switzerland, Zimbabwe and the United States. 

Not only has this made me feel terrific as I look forward to a future of happier times, but our aging population can no longer just be seen as a problem that needs solving, because “the greyer the world gets, the brighter it becomes.”
 
Back to Bhutan.  Amidst economic crises and a sense of high anxiety the big wide world is paying attention to Gross National Happiness (GNH), the Bhutanese alternative to GNP.

Recently the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for happiness and wellbeing to become the core goal of global development.  Now that would be a paradigm shift.

Let me know if you are interested in more blogs about happiness studies and for more on the U-bend: www.economist.com/node/17722567

Share