Measuring Happiness and Its Sustainability

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  • 7/27/2019 Measuring Happiness and Its Sustainability


    Measuring happiness and its sustainability

    October 15, 2013

    Recently, Columbia Universitys Earth Institute, publishedthe World Happiness Report 2013. Happiness was measured by thisAmerican University utilising indicators such as economic growth (GDP),life expectancy, level of social support, perception of corruption, and thefreedom to make choices on lifestyle, etc. The analysis was based on dataavailable between 2010 and 2012 and with the United Nations SustainableDevelopment Solutions Network. The Earth Institutes analysts concludedthat the world had become a slightly happier and more generous placeover the past five years.

    Denmark was adjudged to be the worlds happiest nation with a score of 7.693.Norway was second with 7.655. Switzerland was third with 7.650. The unhappiestcountry of the 156 measured was Togo, in Africa with a score of 2.963. The bottom five

    were all African nations: Benin, the Central African Republic, Burundi and Rwandajoining Togo.Sri LankaThe largest increases in happiness were recorded in Angola, Zimbabwe, Albania,Ecuador and Moldova. The threshold would have been fairly low in these countries. SriLanka was ranked 137 out of the 156. One editorial in a national newspapercommented that Sri Lanka was in the exalted company of Sudan, Zimbabwe, Uganda,

    Mali and Haiti, etc. The Editor went on to indicate that coming close on the heels ofHuman Rights Chief Navi Pillays trenchant comments, after her groundbreaking visitto Sri Lanka, the UN does not seem to have much affection for Sri Lanka! But theEarth Institutes analysis is based on hard research data, submitted to UNsSustainable Development Solutions Network voluntarily by Nation States themselves.Sri Lankas Opposition Member of Parliament, Economist Harsha de Silva, has chimedin saying that the vast majority Sri Lankans are shown by the Earth Institute to beunhappy, mainly due to the heavy debts accumulated by the Government andGovernment-controlled commercial banks. These loans are taken at interest rates of9.25% and 9.5%. These have to be paid back by all Sri Lankans collectively. The smallcoterie of people benefitting from the present Governments largesse, the immediatecircle drawing benefits of political power and influence, are happy, de Silva indicates,but the vast majority of Sri Lankans will fit into the Earth Institutes categorisation ofbeing unhappy, seems to be the Economists view.Measuring happinessThe Oxford Dictionary tells us that being happy is being cheerful with feelings ofpleasure or satisfaction. Satisfaction is, in turn, when you are pleased because youhave achieved something or because something has happened as you wanted it to. Asynonym is being content, being happy and satisfied with what you have.
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    Whether Columbia Universitys criteria for ensuring happiness sit well with thesedefinitions is indeed a moot point. Measuring happiness as an indicator of the qualityof life of average citizen has been an ongoing exercise from time immemorial.Sustainable is defined as something which survives and can be maintained withoutchange.One measure adopted, encouraged by their economic pundits and taken into account

    by Columbia Universitys Earth Institute, is the Gross Domestic Product, better knownby its initials GDP, which has also been the professional economists chosen measureof a nations wellbeing for over 70 years. Economic growth is assumed to equate to

    wellbeing. However, it is well recognised to have serious limitations; for example ittakes no account of environmental pollution and degradation, which negatively affectssustainability, it also excludes all unpaid services which exist in the economy, such asvolunteering and domestic housework homemaking.Robert Kennedy, Attorney General of the USA and brother of President John. F.Kennedy, put it succinctly, when he said that GDP measures everything except that

    which makes life worthwhile!

    Economic performance measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is a measure ofthe value of goods and services produced in a country. It has been defined as the totalof all economic activity in one country, regardless of who owns the productive assets.However it has many flaws and does not even measure the value of goods andservices precisely. Further peoples feelings of happiness or satisfaction or optimismalso depend on things GDP does not capture.Difficult and challenging timesWe live in difficult and challenging times. Global poverty and inequality stubbornlypersist and the threat of the negative consequences of global climate change loomsover all our heads.

    At a UN gathering in Brazil, the Rio +20 World Sustainability Conference, those thatwere concerned enough to attend, that is the major players simply kept away! the238 point final agreement entitled The Future We Want was arrived on the dayappointed for the conference to end, a sure sign of an ineffective UN conference; there

    was no real controversy, where there are controversial real issues raised, themeetings go on until the early hours of the morning, trying to hammer out acompromise. The EUs Climate Change Commissioner commented on the finalcommuniqu: It is telling that nobody in that room adopting the text was happy. Thatshow weak it is.A growing number of ordinary people around the world are recognising the mutual

    interconnectedness of these issues and the need to think of a way to evolve ameasure of development which would capture the real situation of the status ofhumanity as to their thinking of their present and future.How is sustainable progress to be measured in the 21st century? The traditionalindicators of economic activity simply dont tell us enough about ordinary peopleshopes, goals and aspirations. It is this realisation that prompted the United Nations tohost a High Level meeting on Happiness and Wellbeing. For the same reason the few

    world leaders who actually attended Rio +20 were involved in negotiations ondevelopment indicators which would go beyond GDP.

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    The Happy Planet IndexLike Columbia Universitys Earth Institute, the New Economics Foundation, respondingto this need has created a Happy Planet Index (HPI). The HPI is considered to be oneof the leading global measures of sustainable wellbeing. As a measure of humanprogress, it measures the extent to which countries deliver long, happy, sustainablelives for their citizens.

    The 2012 HPI report, published on 14 June 2012, ranks 151 countries based on theirefficiency defined as the extent to which each nation produces long and happy livesfor their citizens, per unit of environmental input. Clearly the results show that we arenot living on a happy planet. No country has good performance on three criticalindicators life expectancy, experiential well being and ecological footprint. Somecountries certainly do well, but maybe not the ones you expected.None of the top 10 in the HPI are the worlds rich countries. Of the top 40 in the HPI,only four have a GDP per capita of over $ 15,000. The highest ranking Western nationis Norway at 28. New Zealand is 29th. Costa Rica leads the HPI table, with its veryhigh life expectancy, high experiential wellbeing and an ecological footprint one-third of

    the USAs. The HPI results show that progress is not just about wealth. That it ispossible to live happily in a sustainable way, without doing irretrievable damage to theenvironment and that this is measurable. There does not seem to be much diversity inthe findings of the Earth Institute and New Economics Foundation.Better Life index and the HDIThe OECD also, a mainly rich country think tank, has attempted to address this issueof developing an accurate indicator for development has created the Better Life index.The index uses 24 variable indicators across 11 sectors, to create a measure of

    welfare for 34 of its members, plus Brazil and Russia. If the 11 sectors are groupedinto two broader categories, America excels most in money and jobs, Switzerland in

    health and education.The index was launched in May 2011; it was the first attempt to bring togetherinternationally comparable measures of wellbeing. The 11 sectors measured includehousing, income, jobs, community life, education, environment, governance and work-life balance. Each topic was considered using three indicators; for work-life balancethree indicators were considered: the number of employees working long hours, thepercentage of working mothers, and the time people devoted to leisure and personalactivities.The HDI, Human Development Index, developed by the UNDP under the guidance ofthe late Dr. Mahbub ul Haque was an alternative measure. Dr. Haque said: The

    human dimension of development is not just another addition to the developmentdialogue. It is an entirely new perspective, a revolutionary way to recast ourconventional approach to development.Gross National HappinessIn 1999 the Planning Commission of Bhutan organised a workshop in Thimpu toconsider whether or not the concept of Gross National Happiness GNH asarticulated by the King of Bhutan as a development target of his kingdom, could berelated to the HDI indicators of the UNDP.The workshop considered a number of issues: Could an index for GNH be constructed

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    in the same way as the index for HDI? What are the main ingredients of happinessand what are the indicators for happiness? Were the four platforms of economicdevelopment, environmental preservation, cultural promotion and good governancethrough which Bhutan was pursuing GNH the appropriate ones?In 2007 a British academic Adrian White published a league table of happiness whichput Denmark in number one position. White took data from diverse sources as

    UNESCO, WHO and the CIA and obtained data from 80,000 people in 178 countries.He concluded that factors such as healthcare and education were significant when itcame to a persons happiness.Lord Layard, an emeritus professor at the London School of Economics, one time theBritish Governments Happiness Czar and an academic, is of the view that happinesscan be measured in this way, for example by simply asking people. Lord Layard also isof the view that relationships are a lot more important that researchers normally allowfor; people who want to be happy have to pay a great deal more attention torelationships and be not so willing to sacrifice them for the sake of income orproductivity.

    Lord Layard says, on this strategy to measure happiness: I think its wonderful; itssomething I and others have been advocating for some time. Its based on the ideathat unless you measure the right things, you wont do the right things.British Prime Minister David Cameron promised at the election he won to measuresubjective levels of wellbeing , when the Government sets about collecting other datafor the Census and measuring the usual things such as income levels and fear ofviolent crime.Britains National Statistician Jill Matheson said that there is a growing internationalrecognition that to measure national wellbeing and progress there is a need to developa more comprehensive view, rather than focusing solely on Gross Domestic Product.

    The science of happinessFrance has also jumped on this bandwagon of this science of happiness movement,instead of confining oneself to only rupees and cents. In 2008 President Sarkozyappointed a Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and SocialProgress, chaired by Nobel prize laureate Joseph Stiglitz consisting of 25 prominentsocial scientists, five with Nobel prizes in Economics including Stiglitz and AmartyaSen.The Commission presented its report on 14 September 2009, calling for the world, inthe words of Stiglitz, to abandon its GDP fetishism. The Commission dealt with thecriticisms of GDP as measure of well being. GDP takes no account of depreciation of

    capital goods, although the value of production is based on market prices, noteverything has a price, the value of these services, such as owner occupied housingand voluntary child care by parents is imputed by assumption.Lord Layard in his book Happiness: Lessons from a New Science says: There is aparadox at the heart of our lives. Most people want more income and strive for it. Yetas Western societies have got richer, their people have become no happier.The Commission also examined the wellbeing of future generations. Our successors

    will inherit a stock of resources, machines, buildings and institutions, the quality oftheir lives will depend to a great extent on our behaviour and investments we make

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    today, especially in their human capital, education and health and the environment.Economic activity can be described as sustainable if future generations can expect tobe at least as well off as us. The report concludes that finding any one measure whichcatches up all this seems too ambitious and that it is wiser to look at a wide range ofindicators that is a basket of figures broadening official statistics beyond GDP alone.A fundamental right

    In Brazil a Senate Committee has approved an Amendment to the Constitution whichwould make the pursuit of happiness a fundamental right. A Brazilian NGO waspushing for this. This brings the Brazilian Constitution somewhat in line with the USAsDeclaration of Independence which includes the phase life, liberty and the pursuit ofhappiness.The Brazilian NGO Movimento Mais Feliz (Happier Movement) say that theAmendment was supposed to emphasise those other essential rights, such as accessto adequate services in health and education, were essential to the achievement ofhappiness.Professor Cristiano Paixao of the Faculty of Law at the University of Brasilia described

    the Amendment as a useless and worrying change to the Constitution. Can youguarantee happiness by law? is his question. The NGOs position is that it aims topromote happiness through five fronts: increasing popular awareness, mobilisingsocial groups, stimulating participation in social projects, training multiplier communityactivists and motivating citizens to contribute to its projects.It says: The state has an obligation to create conditions to provide education, health,security, etc.; the idea is to force the state to assume the responsibility of meetingthese needs so that citizens can seek happiness. A Gallup poll has found that Brazil

    was 12th happiest of 155 countries surveyed, one position happier than the USA. Fourof the five happiest countries were in Scandinavia.

    The surest way to ensure happiness and satisfaction is to minimise needs. Generallysurveys...


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