Adrienne BoettingerFriday,1 March 2013

The Snap:

America may be latching onto an idea taking root in the teeny kingdom of Bhutan: namely, that a country shouldn’t be measured by its wealth but by its people’s happiness. Happiness is an awkward topic, leading some to espouse Kevin Kline’s philosophy in the awful-but-I-still-watch-it movie French Kiss, “When people tell me they are happy, my ass begins to twitch.” It seems touchy-feely, but for the sake of argument, what countries are the least and most happy?

The Download:

Long before Jefferson said we had the right to pursue it, people searched high and low for happiness. But until recently, no government chose its people’s happiness as a barometer of success. Bhutan looks at 9 indicators to see how its people are faring: psychological well-being, community vitality, cultural diversity, time use, good governance, health, education, ecology, and living standards. Even if I weren’t the tree-hugging lib that I am, that makes more sense to me than measuring success according to GDP—particularly when most of that cha-ching sits in the pockets of a few.

I first heard about this when I read Eric Weiner’s book, The Geography of Bliss. Read it and you’ll learn some surprising things like that the people of Iceland are incredibly happy (and artsy even if they stink at it and drunk but only on the weekends) and the people of Moldova would need a century of non-stop cat video viewing to climb out of the depths of despair. And America? Bested by countries like Switzerland and India, the U.S. isn’t in the top 20. Then again, we’re nowhere near the least happy so that’s something.

Listening to NPR as I am often wont to do, I recently heard that more people in the U.S. want in on this happiness movement. There’s an app for it. You can take a survey to see how happy you (but be prepared, the results can be depressing). You can even check out polling data to America’s happiness by city and state and learn of the groups trying to link governance to happiness.

Imagine if the government operated with the goal of making its people happy. If decisions were made not by which Congressman has the most pull on which committee, but to promote things like community vitality? What factors should they consider? They could take a page from Weiner’s book when he said, “Money sometimes buys happiness. You have to break it down, though. Money is a means to an end. The problem is when you think it is an end in itself. Happiness is relationships, and people in the west think money is needed for relationships. But it’s not. It comes down to trustworthiness…Trust is a prerequisite for happiness. Trust not only of your government, of institutions, but trust of your neighbors.”

When’s the last time you talked with your neighbors or trusted your government? Sobering thought, huh? Maybe it’s time to book that trip to Iceland…

Hat Tips:

NPR, The Geography of Bliss, NY Times, Bostinno, Gross National Happiness USA, Gallup, Image Credit: Flickr

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