Is GNH useful? Probably not, but on a personal level, I believe it is immensely valuable. I came across the following brief article this past Saturday in the Lex Column of the weekend edition of FT (Financial Times) and share it for your own musing. See if you can read between the lines for the U.S.A.
“Oh, perfect: another study concludes that Scandinavia is wonderful. The Swedes, Norwegians and Danes are already known to be the best educated, most egalitarian and richest, not to mention the tallest and blondest. Now the UN World Happiness Report 2013, published this week, rubs our noses in it buy finding the five happiest countries to be Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, Netherlands and Sweden.
The rest of us – ignorant, unequal, poor, short and ugly – cannot help but feel our misery all the more.
Other surveys have thrown up the same conclusion, the only difference being which nations join the Nordics. The Better Life index produced by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has Australia, Sweden, Canada, Norway and Switzerland at the top. What these countries share is not great weather. It is that they are rich, stable and western.
Do these measures teach us anything? The UN says happiness is closely related to ‘social equality, trust and quality of governance.’ Intangibles such as these are important in evaluating what has come to be known as a country’s gross national happiness (GNH).
Life expectancy and personal freedom are also important. So is real gross domestic product per capita. But it is only part of the mix.
The UN survey shows that the Irish, who have suffered huge falls in personal income as a result of the financial crisis, and the Italians, who have been in recession, on and off, for at least the past decade are happier than the Germans, who have come through the global crisis without undue hardship (schadenfreude is overrated, apparently). Family and social ties in Ireland and Italy at least partly compensate for declining wealth it would seem.
The trouble with GNH, though, is that it may not be any more useful as a political, economic and social tool than GDP. The GNH measure was pioneered in Bhutan in the 1970’s and is a key measure of progress made there. In July, however, the government that made a fetish of it was voted out of office. Personal happiness is elusive. The pursuit of happiness on a national level is likely to be harder still.”