I just finished reading The Happiness Manifesto, a book proposing the need to measure a nations success less on its economic output and more on its sustainable happiness.
Look at the picture above. Statistically, if you’re an American, whoever lives here is about twenty percent happier and healthier than you and consumes one-fifth the resources.
To determine sustainable happiness, they measured subjective life satisfaction data along with objective life expectancy data (health) against ecological footprint.
The goal is to determine who is best at being happy without doing so at the expense of others and of future generations, and then to figure out how everyone else can get better at it.
Early in the book, the authors quote a speech from Robert Kennedy, given at Kansas University in 1968. Kennedy confronted the nation’s current means of measuring progress and the rising materialism in the country. His speech exemplifies quite well the ideas behind much of the rest of the book:
“Even if we act to erase material poverty, there is another greater task, it is to confront the poverty of satisfaction – purpose and dignity – that afflicts us all. Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things.
Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product – if we judge the United States of America by that – that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.
Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”
Brilliant, striking, and if you really consider what most of us Americans spend our lives doing, kind of depressing.
Happiness Manifesto elaborates much further, on the data and measurement systems they’ve deveolped and on actionable steps to move people in the direction of longer, happier, sustainable lives instead of increasingly diverse cable programming and shopping centers.
If you want to delve further into it, it’s a quick read available on Amazon as a Kindle Single for three dollars. If you don’t have a kindle you can download a free app that will allow you to read it on your laptop.
You can also go to http://www.happyplanetindex.org/ and learn a lot more about the project, including downloading the full reports on where each country ranks in terms of health, happiness and ecological footprint. (Hint: Americans, it’s not pretty)