Happy SMART Day Everyone!
The World Happiness Report is hot off the presses and critics are lining up to take shots at its diversion from the GDP and the economic status quo. Commissioned for a United Nations Conference on happiness and published by The Earth Institute at Columbia University, a major focus of the report suggests the outrageous idea that seeking the well-being and happiness of individual citizens is much more important than the growth and health of that country’s economy. Using statistics from over 150 different countries and three prominent world studies, the report offers ways that governments can develop public policies to support and enhance the quality of life for its citizens, and create a more sustainable foundation for happiness for everyone. What does that mean for you and I? And why are the critics so worked up about it?
Interestingly enough, The World Report of Happiness contains facts and information that we who read SMART Living 365 and other blogs like it cover regularly. The top four happiest countries are all in Northern Europe with an average life evaluation score of 7.6 on a 0 to 10 scale. The least happy are all poor countries in mid-Africa with life evaluation scores averaging 3.4. What is most impressive about the report are the statistics and studies showing that although wealth makes people happy, “political freedom, strong social networks and an absence of corruption are together more important than income in explaining well-being differences between the top and bottom countries. At the individual level, good mental and physical health, someone to count on, job security and stable families are crucial.”
The U.S. claims a respectable #11 on the list. However, it is used as an example of a country where although our economic and technological progress has exploded in the last few decades and our GDP has grown significantly, on average individual happiness has stayed stagnant. This is similar to Japan and a handful of other wealthy countries proving a strong economy doesn’t necessarily make us happy.
Why was the report created? The report claims that it reflects a “new worldwide demand for more attention to happiness and the absence of misery as a criteria for government policy.” In fact, the report suggests “if we continue mindlessly along the current economic trajectory, we risk undermining the Earth’s life support systems…” As a remedy, it offers, “if we act wisely, we can protect the Earth while raising quality of life broadly around the world…adopting lifestyles and technologies that improve happiness while reducing human damage to the environment.” Report authors even have a name for it—“Sustainable Development.” It says, “Sustainable Development is the term given to the combination of human well-being, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability. We can say that the quest for happiness is intimately linked to the quest for sustainable development.” All that sounds very SMART to me!
While news of this report is spreading, there are critics. To begin with, boingboing.net just reported that China has effectively blocked this report from being available on the Internet in all of China. (China was rated 112th out of 156 countries) And while the U.S. has done nothing so extreme as censor the material, the economic spinmeisters are hard at work. Editorials from Forbes.com and AmericanThinker.com show that they consider the report to be similar to a socialistic manifesto and appear to miss the purpose entirely. In defense of the GDP and no doubt the current Tea Party, author Daren Josescu warns, “The World Happiness Report will go down as a watershed moment in the push for global governance.” Clearly the governance he fears is what he calls “European socialism,” as he goes on to denigrate report co-editor Jeffrey Sachs as being “a leading ‘sustainable development’ advocate, a leading ‘anti-poverty’ advocate, and a member of the Spanish Socialist Party’s think-tank, Fundación IDEAS.” That he lumps anti-poverty, sustainable development and the Spanish Socialist Party together speaks volumes.
Okay, but what does the report mean to you and me? Primarily it is a great reminder that money doesn’t equal happiness. Here are some highlights:
1) External factors for happiness are: income, work, community and governance, values and religion.
2) Internal factors for happiness are mental health, physical health, family experiences, education, gender and age;
3) Our personal happiness is a combination and interaction of the external and the internal factors for happiness.
4) Richer people are on average happier than poorer people, but as the country’s wealth rises over time, this does not affect the happiness of the citizens.
5) Income is not the most important factor when determining happiness. Income is important when relative to age, sex and education but absolute income is lower on the list.
6. Unemployment makes people as unhappy as bereavement or separation and affects the entire family. It also creates unhappiness in the work place making those still employed feel less secure in their jobs.
7. Social interactions and trust is very critical to happiness.
8. Freedom and equality are necessary elements of happiness.
9. In countries (and in the US) where life is more difficult, religious belief and practice takes on greater significance for happiness.
10. The values of altruism and kindness boost happiness. Placing the pursuit of wealth under nobler aspirations also increase well-being.
11. Watching television is associated with lower happiness. Spending time in nature is associated with better health, performance and life satisfaction.
12. Married people report higher levels of happiness. Life satisfaction is said to peak in the years before and after marriage. Having children is no guarantee of higher happiness.
13. Education is indirectly related to happiness because it increases income and that usually makes people happier. Plus, it increases employment options and job security.
14. In advanced countries women report higher life satisfaction than men. But satisfaction decreases in non-industrial countries. Women are also happier where gender rights are equal.
Need a more personal way of relating to this information? Consider how most people in the US approach retirement. The emphasis is always on how much money a person or couple has saved, how many investments they have accrued and what type of insurance they have. Little time or emphasis is usually placed on the quality of life they expect to have. Yet this report reminds us that a large number of close friends, a flexible and growing mental capacity, a community of trust, a sense of purpose and meaning in our lives, a healthy body and a sense of autonomy are all extremely important. If all a person does is focus on the financial planning of retirement, they will likely find themselves deeply unsatisfied regardless of how much money they saved. Our entire lives are similar and it is refreshing to know that at least some governmental leaders are talking about those ideas too.
As mentioned, most of the information related in the report is discussed regularly at SMARTliving365.com. Still, it highlights a global movement towards a more holistic way of living that is SMART (Sustainable, Meaningful, Artful, Responsible and Thankful). May this report and the conference it inspired, be advancement toward “a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes sustainable development, poverty eradication, happiness and well-being of peoples.”
“It is neither wealth nor splendor but tranquility and occupation, which gives happiness”? ~Thomas Jefferson
“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” ~Aristotle