As we reported at the end of last year (“Happy Happy New Year!”), the idea that nations should pay attention not just to Gross National Product (GNP) but also to Gross National Happiness (GNH) has been spreading slowly since it was introduced by the former King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, in the 1970s.
This week, GNH will get more attention at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. During this conference, leaders from around the world will gather in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to explore how nations can combat poverty while ensuring environmental protection. While the agenda includes an array of topics such as job creation, food security, and sustainable cities, attendees will also try to answer this question: Are economic measures of growth enough to determine a nation’s well being?
For Bhutan, a landlocked country in South Asia, the answer is still no. At the conference, Bhutan will present a paper based on the work of its Center for Bhutan Studies, which measures the nation’s GNH. The center examines nine domains of happiness - including health, education, time use, and good governance – and uses the results to craft recommendations for policy makers, NGOs, and businesses. Though it started as an informal alternative to the Gross National Product (GNP), today more civic leaders around the world are wondering if the GNH provides more holistic picture of a community’s wellbeing.
Starting in our communities
Sustainable Seattle used the concept in my hometown to develop a local happiness index through The Happiness Initiative. The project has two components: a set of objective statistics used to create a profile of the region’s progress toward sustainability, and a personal survey that anyone can take. The results of the first survey completed in 2011 (summary shown in a graph on page 10 of The Happiness Report Card [PDF]), reveal that my neighbors feel a strong sense of trust and community support, yet struggle with time balance. The Happiness Initiative also developed a set a of recommendations for policy makers and community members to tackle the challenges presented in the survey.
The Happiness Initiative is branching out beyond Seattle and attempting to measure the country’s happiness. Their first national survey conducted in March 2012, for example, indicated Americans are more satisfied with the state of the environment, education, arts, and culture than with government and time balance. The Happiness Initiative is collecting more national data now; you can contribute to the next report yourself here.
What do you think? Should we expand the ways communities — and nations — measure progress and success?