How do we measure a nation’s well-being and progress? The most common metric available across the board is the GDP, gross domestic product, which is about as personally relevant as it sounds. This means of comparison simply shows us the market value of goods produced in a year – but at what cost? Just because standard of living (often positively correlated with GDP) is high, does that mean the residents of said country are better off for it?
In November of 2010, the Prime Minister of the UK, David Cameron, unveiled the Happiness Index project as a means to chart progress on such vital aspects of well-being as health, levels of education, inequalities in income and the environment. The first official Happiness Index conducted by the UK is due to be published by the Office for National Statistics in 2012.
Eleanor Bloxham, CEO of The Value Alliance and Corporate Governance Alliance, and writer for Forbes Magazine applauds “the UK for taking on the challenge of constructing a happiness or well-being index, rather than simply sticking with the hand-me-down measure of GDP. Going through the process of thinking through what should be included will yield at least half the benefit. Then, what they’ll have to guard against is the issue with all measures — making sure people remember what the metric is really measuring — and what it is not.”
A full Hawaiian is a happy Hawaiian! Some deliciousness from my homelands: Okinawan sweet potato, spicy ahi poke, Korean veggies, and a Hawaiian guava juice. Mmmmmm.
In response to the Happiness Index, one UK-based university academic says that quality of life should measure a nation’s well-being. Professor Suzanne Skevington from the University of Bath’s Department of Psychology is working with World Health Organization on a set of 26 criteria to show, in metric form, the state of a nation’s well-being. She has worked for over ten years with the WHO on this comprehensive study of quality of life.
“Happiness is just one aspect of quality of life and although it is very important, it is just one of many components of wellbeing. Aspects of quality of life such as having enough energy to be able to do the things you want to do or having opportunities to take part in leisure and recreational activities, all contribute towards wellbeing.”
Despite quibbles over the semantics of these projects, both are looking for progressive – and far more valuable – ways of measuring the evolution of our nations. The same trend is sending ripples through France and Canada. According to The Guardian:
“The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, announced last year he intended to include happiness and wellbeing in France’s measurement of economic progress. Sarkozy was responding to recommendations made by two Nobel economists, Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen, who called on world leaders to move away from a purely economic concept of gross domestic product, which measures economic production, to wellbeing and sustainability. That report suggested a shift from production to greater attention to household wealth and an assessment of whether countries were growing sustainably or damaging the environment.
Canadian statisticians also poll subjective wellbeing across the country but it is not part of their official data set.
John Helliwell, a member of Canada’s National Statistics Council who has been in talks with the UK on how to measure subjective wellbeing, told the Guardian: “The UK plans are putting into action the two most important elements of the Stiglitz/Sen report: systematically measuring subjective wellbeing as part of a broader national accounting system, and using these data to inform policy choices.””
It looks like Western nations are finally catching up to the forward thinking measures taken by the Buddhist country, Bhutan, which started using a Gross National Happiness Index in 1972. Read more about their four pillars of happiness – sustainable development, natural environment, cultural values, and good governance – on Wikipedia.
- The World Health Organisation Quality of Life questionnaire can be found on the University of Bath website.
- Read one view on the statistics of measuring happiness at Significance.
- Visit the Optimist World for more articles on positive change!