Since the 1940s, the United States has measured its progress in terms of Gross National Product. GNP’s sole objective has been to track economic growth, which some argue gives us a less than accurate idea of our genuine progress. Other development models aim to put more emphasis on increasing well being. Case in point: Bhutan's Gross National Happiness model.
Tying public policy to well being was the brainchild of King Wangchuck of Bhutan, whose kingdom is located near the eastern end of the Himalayan Mountains. In 1972 King Wangchuck decided that measuring only the economic development of the country’s population wasn’t a proper reflection of its progress. So, Wangchuck combined the measurements of material and spiritual development to measure well being through Gross National Happiness.
The four pillars of GNH, according to Wangchuck, are economic self-reliance, a pristine environment, the preservation and promotion of culture, and good governance in the form of democracy. The GNH index assesses things like satisfaction with personal relationships, employment, and meaning and purpose in life to more closely measure "genuine progress."
Although the United States still measures progress with Gross National Product, national research centers have started investigating U.S. happiness levels with surveys. "Are We Happy Yet?," a 2006 study from the Pew Research Center, found that 34 percent of adults surveyed said they were very happy; about 50 percent said they were pretty happy; and 15 percent said they were not too happy at all.
The Pew Center reports that things like marriage, practicing a religion, and race are
correlated with happiness:
Several of them stand out: Married people are happier than unmarrieds. People who worship frequently are happier than those who don't. Republicans are happier than Democrats. Rich people are happier than poor people. Whites and Hispanics are happier than blacks. Sunbelt residents are happier than those who live in the rest of the country.
While things like children, pets and jobs have no correlation whatsoever:
We also found some interesting non-correlations. People who have children are no happier than those who don't, after controlling for marital status. Retirees are no happier than workers. Pet owners are no happier than those without pets.
The Happiness Foundation's World Database of Happiness reports that U.S. residents surveyed averaged a score of 7.4 (on a scale of 1-10). Ranked against the averages from other nations, we come in 17th: right in between Malta and Belgium. Not that it’s a contest, but just in case you’re interested: Denmark, Switzerland and Austria scored highest at 8.0 and above, while Moldova, Zimbabwe and Tanzania’s residents ranked lowest with scores of less than 4.
Want to see how you compare? Measure your Gross Personal Happiness by answering the following selected questions from the Happiness Foundation. Notice that this scale will be 0 to 7, so the highest score would be 7.
Tally at will. Leaving out the percentage questions, you score your answers as 7 = very happy, 5 =pretty happy, and 3 = not too happy.
1. Best-Worst possible life
"Here is a picture of a ladder. Suppose we say that the top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom represents the worst possible life for you. Where on the ladder do you feel you personally stand at the present time?"
7 = best possible life, 0 = worst possible life
2. Delighted-Terrible Life
"How do you feel about your life as a whole.....?"
5 mostly satisfied
3 mostly dissatisfied
3. Happy Person
"Generally speaking are you a happy person.......?"
1 very unhappy
7 very happy
4. Satisfaction with Life-as-a-Whole
"We have talked about various parts of your life, now I want to ask you about your life as a whole. How satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days.....?"
7 completely satisfied
1 completely dissatisfied
5. Summed overall appraisals of life
Using the 1-7 scale below, indicate your agreement with each of the items by placing the appropriate number on the line preceding that item. Please be open and honest in your responding.
A. In most ways my life is close to ideal
B. The conditions of my life are excellent
C. I am satisfied with my life
D. So far, I have gotten the important things I want in life
7 strongly agree
5 slightly agree
4 neither agree nor disagree
3 slightly disagree
1 strongly disagree
6. Self estimate of Time Happy
A. What percentage of the time you were awake today did you feel happy?
B. What percentage did you feel unhappy?
C. What percentage did you feel neither happy nor unhappy
The three percentages should add up to equal 100%.
7. Realization of Goals
"How would you rate yourself as to how successful or unsuccessful you have been in terms of achieving your own goals and aims in life? Think of the top of the ladder as being completely successful, the bottom being entirely unsuccessful."
7 = completely successful, 0 = entirely unsuccessful
If a nation such as ours measured it's progress in this way, what would change? What would measuring our Gross National Happiness look like? How do you think this would make things different in our city, state or nation?
This New York Times editorial proposes that it might look a lot like a closing of the gap between our monetary wealth and our personal welfare:
To talk about gross national happiness may sound purely pie in the sky, partly because we have been taught to believe that happiness is essentially a personal emotion, not an attribute of a community or a country. But thinking of happiness as a quotient of cultural and environmental factors might help us understand the growing disconnect between America's prosperity and Americans' sense of well-being.
Photo credit: stock xchange
Chart credit: Pew Research Center