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Should A Country Measure Happiness?

Should A Country Measure Happiness?

Last week, on the anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, French President Sarkozy gave a speech calling for change in how countries measure wealth.  He suggested the need for a new metric, other than GDP, that would take into account the happiness of a country’s population along with its economic prosperity.  When this was noticed at all in the U.S. media, there were the typical sneers and remarks about baguettes, long lunches, and jealousy of American productivity.  But there is more than one way of measuring a country’s success, and GDP is certainly very seriously flawed as a measure of progress.

GDP (gross domestic product) measures the total value of goods and services produced within a nation’s borders in a given period.  The nature of these goods and services is not considered.  For instance, when armament production goes up, that causes an increase in GDP.  Similarly, the GDP of the state of Alaska soared after the Exxon Valdez disaster, even though few would claim that cleaning up a giant oil spill were a positive for the state, its people and its wildlife. GDP doesn’t measure the environmental degradation or other long-term effects of growth, often termed “externalities,” that nevertheless have a profound effect on a nation’s true success.

There are already alternative ways of measuring society’s progress.  The United Nations’ Human Development Index includes measurements of educational attainment, life expectancy and literacy, along with GDP.  (And we notice that 11th ranked France “beats” the US, in 15th place in 2008.) Human development is just one part of the equation, however.  One country has gone significantly farther in terms of decoupling progress from uncritical measurement of economic activity.  The Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan guides all governmental policies through the Gross National Happiness indicators, which incorporate four pillars: sustainable development; natural resource conservation; cultural values, and good governance.  This balanced approach may be just the ticket to helping the rest of the world measure what real progress is, so we can chart a path towards true happiness.

Learn more:
Bhutan Foundation

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Happiness for this generation and those to come...a valid measurement? Photo: Steve Evans via Flickr, Creative Commons license

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9:30AM PDT on Sep 24, 2009

To James D.
For your information, the French don't hate the Americans. They admire them and respect them. What they hate is the rednecks, the arrogants, the bullies, the ignorants "a la Bush". If you read the foreign press, you would see a lot more hatred of America in the British press for instance. Just wake up and stop swallowing the cliches churned by the media in America.

1:12AM PDT on Sep 24, 2009

It looks like Sarkozy got some ideas from his meeting with the Dalai Lama -- interesting!

2:01AM PDT on Sep 23, 2009

GDP is only a measure for blind, materialistic egoism and acquisitiveness. Bhutan's approach is more intelligent, it regards humans as feeling beings.
A very impressing video about Bhutan's happiness formula can be seen on
(in German language only).

1:26PM PDT on Sep 22, 2009

GDP does send the wrong signals. There is more to life than money. I am reminded of a definition of Affluenza, the pressure to work harder to buy things we do not need so that we can impress people we do not like.

Success for me is health, wealth and happiness. And wealth to me is more than just money.

Oh, and a quick comment Jean, which country is it you think we all live in? This is the internet and we come from a variety of countries.

12:21PM PDT on Sep 22, 2009

Dr Oz states we are very stressed out in this country. So I go along with France. Drink more wine, eat fine food (not fastfood) don't work so hard for junk to buy. Enjoy high quality life, including being kind to your neighbor, and the simple things in life. We will prosper!!!

11:39AM PDT on Sep 22, 2009

Surely there is a combination of factors that would give a credible indicator of Happiness in the country. It would be worth trying to take into account, and the fact that we were at least trying might lead to needed changes.

By the way, in a fairly recent poll taken of the French populace concerning who they hate the most, the lucky winner was: The French! Yes, they hate each other even more than they hate us.

7:59AM PDT on Sep 22, 2009

What you produce or not produce does not make a good country or a bad country. I think you measure a country by the people within the country what they do for everyone around them good or bad.

7:28AM PDT on Sep 22, 2009

What a great idea, measuring happiness! I think if it were measured here in the US we'd be one of the most STRESSED out nations! Bills, bills, and more bills! How can we be happy paying soooo many bills. How can we be happy paying for the necessities of life, like water!? Soon we'll be paying for air with the carbon taxes. I can tell you I am NOT happy with the world I was born into. It feels like a form of slavery.

6:39AM PDT on Sep 22, 2009

Nobody loves the France more than the French. So call it animosity, jealousy or whatever, but not liking the French is both a US and Western European passtime.

They do have a beautiful language, even if they're stuck up about it. The bread is also spectacular. The wine is marnial (really; our California wines are far superior) And for a small country (footprint) Frace is also the world's 5th or 6th largest economy.

France, arguably, also has the world's best healthcare and superb education. Measuring wellbeing is a good idea on Sarkozy's part, inasmuch as France is already doing really well in that regard (Sarkozy is probably looking for cred more so than he is Bhutanese GNH .... but you can't blame a politician for being political).

Bhutan is a Buddhist utopia in the same way that the Religious Right would have the USA become a Christian utopia. I'm not keen on either.

The solution to our woes, I believe is a practical and not philisophical problem: Better pay with restored overtime pay requirements, restore our progressive tax system and fund services publicly that governement is good at, while letting the market thrive doing what it's best at.

Just my opinion, obviously.

5:41AM PDT on Sep 22, 2009

Great idea - every country should at least assess its nations happiness and then try to increase it - wow! what a [revolutionary] thought - vive la France!

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