Bill Totten's Weblog

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Gross National Happiness

by Cecile Andrews

Energy Bulletin (May 09 2010)

There's a new movement afoot! Gross National Happiness - evaluating our society in terms of happiness rather than money. That's what the GDP, Gross Domestic Product, measures - the amount of money flowing through the system. The problem is that GDP goes up not only when good things happen, but when bad things happen as well. Things like mining disasters or oil spills can put a lot of money into the economy.

Robert Kennedy said it best in 1968:

Too much and too long, we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our gross national product ... if we should judge America by that - counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl ...

Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.

So what does Gross National Happiness measure? Happiness research finds that the things that most contribute to satisfaction involve time for family, friends, and community. Indeed, social ties are the chief ingredient in happiness. We've forgotten this and it's why happiness in the United States has been on the decline for the last thirty years.

The problem is that most of us grew up thinking that if we were rich we'd be happy. But the research shows that after a certain point, more money does not contribute to happiness. In fact, it can get in the way because money often becomes more important than relationships. In particular, time becomes money, and there is no financial benefit to just hanging out with friends!

Essentially, we care too much about money. Some companies will seemingly do anything for money - cheat, lay people off, pay low salaries, poison the environment, make money from wars. Look at our mine disaster and the oil rig explosion. Companies cut costs on safety for the sake of profit.

The central idea of Voluntary Simplicity {*} is to straighten out our thinking out about money. Money will always be a motivator, but it can't be the primary one. We must put people and the planet before profit. One way to get people to think differently about money is to measure true fulfillment instead of just money. Measuring Gross National Happiness is one way to get people thinking about what truly matters.


This all started with the little country Bhutan deciding to measure Gross National Happiness instead of GDP. And now, cities around the world are starting to get involved. One of the first is Victoria, British Columbia (Canada), and recently a delegation met with the Seattle City Council to begin talks about making Seattle the first American city to use GNH as a measure.

What would be measured? In Bhutan and Victoria they're using ten indicators: psychological well-being, time use, community vitality, culture, health, education, environmental diversity and resilience, living standard, and governance.

As you can see, this is an exciting idea! Imagine how fun it would be to get together and talk with others about what these indicators mean for your own happiness as well as the well being of our society.

You have a chance to do this at a class at the Phinney Neighborhood Center: "Happiness Lessons" to be offered on Tuesday, May 18th from 7:30 to 9:00. Donation $5. To register or for more information, call 206 783 2244.

Start thinking about truly matters for the well being of people and the planet!

(You can join a Simplicity Circle on Monday nights at 7:30 to 9:00 pm at St John's United Lutheran Church at 55th and Phinney, across from the zoo's west entrance. For info: contact Cecile Andrews at


Cecile Andrews is a long-time author on the subject of simplicity and originator of the Simplicity Circle idea. She's involved with projects to build Sustainability and Community in her North Seattle Neighborhood. The theme is living Simpler, Slower, and Smaller. She has been a visiting scholar at Stanford University where she received her doctorate in education, and an affiliated scholar with Seattle University. A former community college administrator, she now works with community groups to explore the issue of living more simply: how to live lives that are sustainable, just, and joyful. Her website is

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