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The serious business of creating a happier world

Friday, 13 April 2012

I'm happy to share with you this somewhat serious, but very important article from the UK's Guardian about creating a happier world. I say serious. believing that happiness IS a serious business, but it's also something that with some extra time on the weekend, I thought you might enjoy reading (although you can obviously read it any time that suits you best!). 

So if you're interested not just in happiness but also, in the business and politics of happiness, then I think you'll find this article thought provoking. It starts like this...

A historic event took place just before Easter, the first ever United Nations conference on happiness with more than 600 delegates including leaders and representatives from nations around the world.

This was the first major step forward in a process which began last summer, when the resolution Happiness: towards a holistic approach to development was unanimously adopted by the UN General Assembly. Taking the lead was Bhutan, the tiny Himalayan kingdom which famously measures its success in terms of "Gross National Happiness" (GNH).

The basic idea is that human progress is about more than just growing the economy. When we measure how well our societies are doing, this should focus on people's overall quality of life, not just their standard of living. Economic growth can of course be beneficial, for example by lifting people out of poverty; but it can also come with unwanted side-effects, like increases in inequality, mental illness and environmental damage. The economy is a means to an end; the ultimate end is the happiness of the people.

This isn't a new idea – in fact it dates back at least as far as the Enlightenment and arguably back to Aristotle. So as I walked in to the UN headquarters the big question in my mind was whether this event could lead to anything tangible. Could it be the trigger for a global shift in priorities, or would it be a talking shop with warm words but with no real traction?

In his opening address the Bhutanese prime minister, Jigmi Thinley, referred to a "deeply troubled" world, suggesting that we'd lost our way in our "obsession for creation of wealth at any cost". He's an inspiring and articulate man for whom happiness is intrinsically linked to sustainability and preserving the natural world. There are considerable differences between Bhutan and the developed nations, but their GNH concept has global relevance and the underlying methodology is solid. It's based on 72 different indicators across nine domains, which include community vitality, time use and psychological wellbeing. There's a lot we can learn.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was generous in his praise for Bhutan's leadership. He talked of happiness as a fundamental human goal and universal aspiration, but cautioned that social, ecological and economic challenges have "made the achievement of happiness an unachievable goal for many". We also heard from Laura Chinchilla, president of Costa Rica, who is rightfully proud of her country where very high levels of life satisfaction are achieved with a relatively small environmental footprint.

After more pleasantries from Australia, Finland, India, Israel, Japan, Morocco, Thailand and the UK, things finally stepped into gear when Jeff Sachs took the stage. The influential US economist is special advisor to Ban Ki-Moon and has recently become vocal in his support for the happiness agenda. "The US has had a three time increase of GNP per capita since 1960, but the happiness needle hasn't budged" he noted. "Other countries have pursued other policies and achieved much greater gains of happiness, even at much lower levels of per capita income."

Sachs went on to share the outcomes of a major workshop on Happiness he'd chaired at Columbia University the previous day. I'd been there too and watched with fascination as global experts debated the cutting edge of wellbeing research. Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist, had explained how happiness is a skill that can be learned; public policy expert Robert Putnam showed us the vital importance of social connections; economist Joseph Stiglitz highlighted the flaws with GDP; Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard explained the reciprocal benefits of altruism; and Martin Seligman, founder of positive psychology, reminded us that there's much more to a flourishing life than just the absence of misery.

These insights, and many more, formed part of the World Happiness Report...

...still finding this interesting? Well you can read more, the full and original article HERE

And as always, feel free to post your thoughts and questions, comments or queries on The Happiness Institute's Facebook Page HERE

 


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