Rethinking the model of our society: toward the economy of happiness

Happiness, life satisfaction, social relationships with the family, colleagues, friends and neighbors, as well as with the trust in public institutions are crucial factors the for the happiness and wellbeing of every citizen and thus of the society in which we live. Currently, only few countries in the world have introduced indicators to measure them. There is still a lot to do on this field and the International Forum for Wellbeing in Grenoble (France) from 6th to 8th June is going to be an important meeting where institutions, government, NGOs and citizens will discuss how to tackle this challenge.

The need to rethink the model of our society is an evidence, but the question is to understand where this transition should start from. Countries such as Bhutan measure prosperity by gauging its citizens’ happiness levels, not only the GDP. Since 1971, the country has rejected GDP as the only way to measure progress. Indeed, the country’s development is measured through formal indicators of gross national happiness (GNH) as well as the spiritual, physical, social and environmental health of its citizens and the natural environment.

Why is it so important for public institutions to go beyond GDP and thus to understand and measure other dimensions of people’s life?

In this graph, GDP and happiness in the US is measured in a range of period from 1946 to 1996. More precisely, it shows the happiness paradox: to the increasing rate of GDP corresponds a decreasing rate of the level of happiness. The lines show that the economic wealth of the Americans is not the only one dimension making their life happier. In fact, we, as human being, need many other things that define our human well-being like life expectancy and, besides others, social connections both in the private and public life.

The example of the US brings to the public institutions’ attention a crucial point which has to do with the negative social and environmental externalities that the same economic growth has produced until now. If we take a closer look at China, 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 measure which assesses progress according to three basic dimensions of human development (long and healthy life, access to knowledge and decent standard of living), China is positioned at the 90th place up to 188 nations.

A second example is Australia, which is 13th in terms of GDP, while in terms of HDI it ranks 2nd worldwide. Italy ranks 19th in the HDI with a GDP growth at the place number 9. France is 5th in terms of GDP growth, while it is 21st in terms of HDI.
Those examples show a clear gap between the quantitative and the qualitative side of the economic growth. Even if over the past 25 years human development has been impressive on many fronts, the phenomenon has not been universal. It seems indeed that there are imbalances across countries regarding socioeconomic, ethnical, racial and other reasons. Millions of people are unable to reach their full potential in life because they suffer deprivations in multiple dimensions of human development.
Eventually, if rethinking our society is going to be the priority for the current and future international political agenda, it is then important to redefine the way in which progress and success are defined. Because it is how we describe success that affect what we strive for. In other words, if governments think that GDP is the success, then people will strive for it.

Today is the time to move towards the economy of happiness. It assumes that the quality of life is linked not only to the economic wellbeing, but also to the social determinants in which people are born, live, learn, work and play. Humans are social animals and their nature is to give and receive love from others. People are happier when they feel a sense of belonging to their society. If those elements were taken into account in the design and evaluation of public policies, we would achieve a more socially and environmentally sustainable society. The International Forum for Wellbeing in Grenoble is going to say much in this regard.

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