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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Happiness Matters !

The Vedic New Year which began yesterday is called Nanda. Nanda means Happiness.

We all want to be happy .Whatever we do in our life is for our happiness and that of our near and dear ones. We have also experienced that our happiness impacts the level of happiness of those around us , our surroundings and vice versa. There is a research that has found that if a friend of a friend of a friend is happy , then you are also happy ! The benefits of being happy don't need to be explained to us. It is my personal experience that when I am happy, I am more productive, more loving, more tolerant and more giving ! I have also seen this of people around me. Also, all of us would prefer to be surrounded with happy people , not so much grumpy ones.

So it is smart to conclude that happy people are any nations greatest asset. However do we really know strengths of nations based on the strength of its happiness ?

Robert F Kennedy in 1968 famously said
"...[T]he 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.”

The good news is that there is some positive movement towards going beyond the GDP ( Gross Domestic Product) in measuring nations well being and progress. Enclosed below is an extract of an UNICEF article that talks about this.

What makes me happy, is that finally happiness matters !! So I am going to be happy and spread happiness, so they can measure it ! You too ?

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The limitations of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as an indicator of the well-being and progress of nations have long been known. As a yardstick of progress, it came into being at the Bretton Woods Conference on the heels of the Great Depression. Not surprisingly, it is again the global financial crisis that has reinvigorated calls for a new development paradigm and new metrics of progress. At the UN, the question of human well-being and measurement of progress is certainly expected to be at the core of the Rio+20 and post-2015 agenda debates in the coming months.
From the Royal Government of Bhutan to the European Union to the World Economic Forum, all are calling for new or improved ways to measure well-being and progress. Even the Harvard Business Review devoted a whole issue to The Value of Happiness, concluding that “happiness can have an impact at both the company and the country level.” A number of new indicators have been developed in attempts to measure well-being and development progress in a more holistic manner. UNDP’s Human Development Index is one of the most well-known. In addition to GDP, it incorporates health, education and most recently equity. Yet none of the indices thus far have been able to meaningfully combine economic, environmental and social dimensions and gain universal acceptance. So the debate goes on. Some are calling for building on the GDP and enhancing it, as necessary. Others suggest new composite measures to reflect the multidimensionality of well-being. Below we offer a few interesting readings on the topics that are shaping today’s debate.

In 2008, the French President, Nicholas Sarkozy created the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress. The Commission, led by Joseph Stiglitz, Amartya Sen and Jean Paul Fitoussi, was asked to identify the limits of GDP, to consider more relevant indicators of social progress, and to assess the feasibility of alternative measurement tools. The Report advocates for a shift of emphasis from a “production-oriented” GDP measurement system to one focused on the well-being of current and future generations, i.e. toward broader measures of social progress. Acknowledging its multi-dimensional nature, the report proposes the following elements as key to well-being: material living standards (income, consumption and wealth); health; education; personal activities including work; political voice and governance; social connections and relationships; environment (present and future conditions); and insecurity, of an economic and a physical nature.

A number of organizations and initiatives have picked up and built on the Commission’s report, including the OECD and the High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability. The OECD has developed How is Life? which is a framework for measuring well-being and progress with three conceptual pillars: material living conditions, quality of life and sustainability (see illustration below). The intergenerational sustainability of well-being and resilience to shocks are important features of the framework.

Further, the OECD’s Better Life Index is an interactive composite index of well-being that aims at involving citizens in the debate on societal progress. Similarly to the framework, it focuses on individuals’ and households’ outcomes (rather than drivers and inputs) and on both objective and subjective features of well-being along 11 dimensions.

Yet there are a number of important questions to consider about alternative measurement of nations’ well-being. In her recent book The Pursuit of Happiness: An Economy of Well-being, Brookings’ Carol Graham ponders some of them, including whether policy should be more concerned with increasing day-to-day contentment or with providing greater opportunity to build a fulfilling life, in the Aristotelian sense. Other issues include whether we care more about the happiness of today’s citizens or that of future generations. Policies such as reducing our fiscal deficits or reforming our health care system, for example, typically require sacrificing current consumption and immediate well-being for better long-run outcomes.

From Bhutan to Britain, from France to Brazil, from China to Canada — a number of governments have begun incorporating measures of well-being and happiness into their benchmarks for national progress. And going beyond national policy, the Kingdom of Bhutan – the birthplace of the Gross Happiness Index – is actively promoting the idea of a new sustainable economic paradigm as a contribution to the Rio+20 debate and beyond. They suggest that a new system for measuring well-being holistically would have to be created, supported by redesigned Bretton Woods institutions. In 2011, introduced by Bhutan, the General Assembly adopted a resolution entitled Happiness: towards a holistic approach to development, calling for additional measures that better capture the importance of the pursuit of happiness and well-being in development. On 2 April 2012, there will be a follow up high-level meeting Happiness and Well-being: Defining a new economic paradigm at the UN, in which UNICEF will participate.

UNICEF has much to add on the child dimension of nations’ well-being measurement. In 2007, Innocenti Report Card 7 eloquently asserted that “The true measure of a nation’s standing is how well it attends to its children – their health and safety, their material security, their education and socialization, and their sense of being loved, valued, and included in the families and societies into which they are born.” UNICEF’s continued engagement in this debate today could prove to be important for tomorrow’s generation – as experience shows, what gets measured, gets managed.

Credit - Ms Sumathi Jayaraman, UN .

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