• Can you measure happiness?

    Posted by Amanda

    6 February, 2012

    Ever since the economic crisis, people have been questioning whether money = happiness.

    Can you measure happiness?Can you measure happiness?Can you measure happiness?For years we were told that economic growth was vital for our well-being and the best way to help keep the economic engine healthy was to spend. Japan, with economic growth of 1% pa (or less) was like a spluttering 4-door sedan compared with India and China's turbo-charged growth of over 8%. You just need to look at some recent headlines from Bloomberg's Business Week to get the picture – "What's New for China's Miracle", "A Thousand Desires Bloom" and "India's New Worldly Women".

    More was good and happiness was shopping, as confirmed in a blog from the Economist.

    But times change. It's OK to save, to enjoy simple pleasures and to be content with less. Of course, Christians should applaud this trend as it echoes the biblical truth that pursuing wealth at the expense of others is unwise, greedy and even, ungodly.

    Some economists and politicians now talk of national well-being in terms broader and deeper than money. So, in light of changing economic conditions, how should we now measure 'happiness'?

    The Happy Planet Index measures human well-being and environmental impact. It starts from the idea that most of us want to live long and fulfilling lives and tries to measure how successfully this can be done without infringing on the rights of people in other places and in future generations to do the same.

    The Happy Planet Index, very basically, is an equation:
    Life expectancy x life satisfaction ÷ ecological footprint = HPI

    You can take the online survey to calculate your own HPI score, which I guess could make you unhappy. If you want to compare, results, my score was a fairly unhealthy 41.8.

    But this Index does not measure access to decision-making, security or esteem. Is it possible to measure that sort of happiness?

    GNH, Gross National Happiness, could be one answer. The name comes from Bhutan, where then King Jingme told a reporter, "In Bhutan, we don't just care about gross national product, we care about gross national happiness".

    The idea has grown in the 30 years since. In 2008, France's President Sarkozy, established a Commission to consider alternatives to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), headed by respected economists Joseph Stiglitz, Amartya Sen and Jean-Paul Fitoussi. Their report concluded that any well-being survey needs to look at seven areas - health, education, environment, employment, material well-being, interpersonal connectedness and political engagement.

    France and Bhutan have been joined by Thailand, Canada, Ecuador, China, Bolivia, Australia and the UK in seeking to measure happiness (note the mix of political cultures here). In addition, the UN adopted a resolution last year that happiness should be included among development indicators.

    The post-war argument that growth can bring advancement for everyone has been shown to be false. The challenge for us all is how to raise the prominence of non-economic indicators in measuring social progress and personal well-being.

    One of my favourite passages in the Bible, which draws a picture of blessing and contentment, is in Isaiah 65 where God declares:

    "In those days people will live in the houses they build and eat the fruit of their own vineyards. Unlike the past, invaders will not take their houses and confiscate their vineyards. For my people will live as long as trees, and my chosen ones will have time to enjoy their hard-won gains. They will not work in vain, and their children will not be doomed to misfortune. For they are people blessed by the LORD, and their children, too, will be blessed."

    It is time for all nations to ask themselves the true meaning of prosperity, development, happiness and contentment. And Christians should join in the debate.

    Have a vigorous "happiness" discussion with your friends over coffee and ask them to do the Happy Planet Index online survey.

    Leave a comment below, ask the question on Facebook and share your related ideas.


    Amanda Jackson is the Campaigns Coordinator for Micah Challenge International and the former National Coordinator of Micah Challenge Australia.