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

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


LucyKaleido ScopeEyes

The other thing that the French & Americans (& probably a lot of other peoples, too) is the problem of bills & taxes that one commenter here on this thread brought up.
Our utilities cost more & more. Whether water, gas or electricity, they've all become privatized, thanks to the right-wing, neo-liberal EU officials! There's even a new expression that was invented a few years back: 'energy precarious'! This describes people for whom having light & keeping warm have become luxuries. We all struggle to pay water, electricity & gas bills which take out an unconscionably large proportion of our income!

LucyKaleido ScopeEyes

To my way of thinking, a slab of tough beef served with potatoes, rice or mushy pasta is not a healthy OR a gourmet meal! So much for the myth of 'great' French food!

Of course, if your income allows it, you can eat wonderful, creative food in France, but it isn't for ordinary people & it isn't for everyday, either! It costs a fortune!

All the bread isn't all good, either: another myth! I have to go out of my way to find good bread here, & do so gladly. You find mediocre bread at the average bakery & the average restaurant.

I just wish people would try to become a little better informed & stop being satisfied with the outdated, inaccurate and/or superficial clichés about different peoples & countries they thoughtlessly spew out !

LucyKaleido ScopeEyes

my comment cont'd:

...And she was a great reader of ingredients on food packages, so early on I developed the awareness that food with too many chemical additives & too much sugar were to avoid!

I may not be a typical American, but I was often outraged & insulted during my first years in France, when people would say things like, 'Good thing for you you came to live in France - that way, you've learned how to eat right!'

In terms of how well the French eat, while they may put down American fast food (which I agree with), most don't realize that excellent food & great cooking IS available in the US! Nor do they realize that the quality of the food THEY eat is not so great. Factory farming provides most of the food the French eat, just as it does for Americans (though the French don't have the additional problem of having unlabeled GM ingredients). Most French people are not rolling in money, so they shop at supermarkets where most everything comes from factory farms & the food industry (with the possible exception of certain cheeses). Ham bought in supermarket packages, for ex, is mostly salt & water - it has no flavor! The reign of big corporations has made some aspects of life in different countries very similar.

The most typical French restaurant dish is steak & French fries! Ordinary French restaurants almost never serve fresh vegetables. In some places, 'rice' or 'pasta' is considered the vegetable your meat is served with. To my way

LucyKaleido ScopeEyes

The French & Americans do seem to have a few BIG things in common:

First of all, the inability to see other people as they are, not through stereotypes & clichés!:

The French don't HATE Americans! The French do not spend all their time drinking wine, enjoying good food & putting down Americans!

The 70th anniversary of D-Day was just celebrated here on June 6th. The days & weeks leading up to all the commemorative events were filled with newspaper & TV stories, interviews, films & documentaries about the allied invasion of Europe that saved everyone from the Nazis & US servicemen who sacrificed their lives on 'bloody' Omaha Beach or survived to talk about it. THAT is not hatred!

It's very hard for me to talk about 'the French', 'Italians' or 'Americans', because in every society, there are people of different classes, income-level, education, views, tastes, etc, and these blanket statements, whether it's the French or Americans who are making them, fail to take all the differences into account.

And when people of one nationality criticize some aspect of a different culture, that doesn't mean they hate them, either!

The French, for the most part, think Americans eat fast food all day every day. Is that true? For you to say, fellow Americans! I come from a very food-conscious family & grew up eating all sorts of delicious things my mother cooked. And she was a great reader of ingredients on food packages, so early on I dev

LucyKaleido ScopeEyes

3rd installment:

Workplace pressure & stress mustn't be neglected when considering the French's heavy reliance on tranquilizers, antidepressants & sleeping pills that has been growing since the 1980s. France has long been known to hold the record on this score, beating other European countries & the US! A 1991 report found that for the last decade the French on average had consumed three times more of such drugs than their British & German neighbors. (And France had already held the European record for alcohol consumption!) A study by France’s National Drug Safety Agency just out this spring found that French use of anti-depressants, sleeping pills & other prescription medication had reached new heights: one in three adults in the country use some form of psychotropic drug. (

France's education system is far from 'superb': most children & teens who are products of the French school system have early on developed a permanent inferiority complex! The system fosters feelings of worthlessness and any healthy self-esteem is very quickly simply knocked out of them. Please see Having lived in France for over 35 years & taught French adults, I agree entirely with the conclusions of the English university

LucyKaleido ScopeEyes

My comment got cut off! The rest:

French healthcare is not what it is cracked up to be: the national healthcare system reimburses so little of what doctor visits, hospital stays & medicines actually cost that everyone needs a complementary (private) health insurance that only the better companies offer their employees. And under governments like Sarkozy's, the reimbursement percentages have never stopped going down. Many people go without proper dental care and eye-glasses because these are barely reimbursed by the national healthcare system.

France is still perceived through old stereotypes that are now obsolete. The long, relaxed lunch may still exist on occasion -- when top executives, for example, have visitors to impress & contracts to negotiate with them, but many people just throw down a sandwich or a yogurt on a regular basis (or skip lunch completely), because their work load is so great & productivity has become the top priority.

Some companies, like the telecommunications giant Orange or car producer Renault have had 'suicide epidemics' due to inhumane management methods, bullying, restructuring cuts, increase productivity measures and/or forced transfers that push people to desperation & despair. (

Workplace pressure & stress mustn't be neglected when considering the French's heavy reliance on tranquilizers, antidepressants & sleeping pills that has been growing since the 1980

LucyKaleido ScopeEyes

I just saw a documentary yesterday about Bhutan's Gross National Happiness index! It goes beyond a great idea, and has been translated into government policies & business ratings, especially start-ups. It has nothing to do with religious force-feeding or intolerance, but social consciousness & social/environmental responsibility. What's more, just as the US carries out a census every 10 years, Bhutan carries out a 'happiness' census every 4 years, to see just how the government's GNH policies are measuring up at grassroots level. GNH agents scour the country with a questionnaire of over two hundred questions designed to assess progress in all the key areas of 'happiness'.

I was delighted to learn that Bhutan outlawed advertising in public places-- the huge advertising billboards that mar urban and rural areas & roads everywhere in the US are prohibited in Bhutan on the grounds of damaging the beauty of the environment. Great initiative, imho!

Whereas Bhutan is really applying this concept in key areas such as healthcare, education & trash collection/recycling, Sarkozy was just attempting to improve his image & electoral chances!

French healthcare is not what it is cracked up to be: the national healthcare system reimburses so little of what doctor visits, hospital stays & medicines actually cost that everyone needs a complementary (private) health insurance that only the better companies offer their employees. And under governments like Sar

Genevieve H.
Genevieve H.7 years ago

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.

Past Member
Past Member 7 years ago

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

Dietrich S.
Dietrich S.7 years ago

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).