The need torethink the model of our society is an evidence, but the question is tounderstand where this transition should start from. Countries such as Bhutan measure prosperity by gaugingits citizens’ happiness levels, not only the GDP. Since 1971, the country has rejectedGDP as the only way to measure progress. Indeed, the country’s development ismeasured through formal indicators of gross national happiness (GNH) as well asthe spiritual, physical, social and environmental health of its citizens and thenatural environment.
Why is it so importantfor public institutions to go beyond GDP and thus to understand and measureother dimensions of people’s life?
Inthis graph, GDP and happiness in the US is measured in a range of period from 1946to 1996. More precisely, it shows the happinessparadox: to the increasing rate of GDP corresponds a decreasing rate of thelevel of happiness. The lines show that the economic wealth of the Americans isnot the only one dimension making their life happier. In fact, we, as humanbeing, need many other things that define our human well-being like lifeexpectancy and, besides others, social connections both in the private andpublic life.
Theexample of the US brings to the public institutions’ attention a crucial pointwhich has to do with the negative social and environmental externalities thatthe same economic growth has produced until now. If we take a closer look atChina, the country ranks as second, only after the US in terms of GDP growth.On the contrary, if we look at the human development index (HDI), a measurewhich assesses progress according to three basic dimensions of humandevelopment (long and healthy life, access to knowledge and decent standard ofliving), China is positioned at the 90th place up to 188 nations.
Asecond example is Australia, which is 13th in terms of GDP, while interms of HDI it ranks 2nd worldwide. Italy ranks 19th inthe HDI with a GDP growth at the place number 9. France is 5th interms of GDP growth, while it is 21st in terms of HDI.
Thoseexamples show a clear gap between the quantitativeand the qualitative side of the economic growth. Even if over the past 25years human development has been impressive on many fronts, the phenomenon hasnot been universal. It seems indeed that there are imbalances across countriesregarding socioeconomic, ethnical, racial and other reasons. Millions of peopleare unable to reach their full potential in life because they sufferdeprivations in multiple dimensions of human development.
Eventually,if rethinking our society is going to be the priority for the current andfuture international political agenda, it is then important to redefine the wayin which progress and success are defined. Because it is how we describesuccess that affect what we strive for. In other words, if governments thinkthat GDP is the success, then people will strive for it.
Today is thetime to move towards the economy ofhappiness. It assumes that the quality of life is linked not only to theeconomic wellbeing, but also to the social determinants in which people areborn, live, learn, work and play. Humans are social animals and their nature isto give and receive love from others. People are happier when they feel a senseof belonging to their society. If those elements were taken into account in thedesign and evaluation of public policies, we would achieve a more socially andenvironmentally sustainable society. The International Forum for Wellbeing in Grenoble is going to say much in this regard.