Can developing countries afford the money to develop happiness-based public policies?
Why is Saudi-Arabia a fairly happy country, despite low levels of personal freedom?
How is it possible that Sweden is one of the happiest countries of the world, but also a country with one of the highest suicide rates?
Are measures of happiness accurate? Shouldn’t weather and gastronomy be part of it, given their importance for happiness?
This is just a snapshot of some of the great questions that I got fired on me from the audience at a conference on ‘Beyond GDP. Why Happiness Makes Goood Policy’. They provide plenty of material for future blog posts!
The event was organised by the Danish Embassy in Brussels and the Young Professionals and Foreign Policy (YPFP) in Brussels. Fortunately I wasn’t alone in answering them: I spoke alongside Marie Louise Dornoy of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen.
Happiness is all about statistics
Apart from challenging my arguments and thoughts about the topic, I felt that the questions also revealed a deep interest and understanding from the audience. Happiness is a universal topic, and everybody in the room seemed to reflect on the question what happiness means for themselves and for society they live in.
As in many events, people were curious whether happiness and well-being can really be used in public policy. I feel that progress has been made in the last ten years to strengthen the scientific base and to gathering of statistical evidence underlying well-being policies. Often this is up to academia and central statistical agencies. As I formulated it during the event, happiness is a lot about statistics.
Local governments ‘experiment’ with happiness policies
For the concrete policy initiatives, it is especially local and regional authorities that are discovering and experimenting in this area. The great thing is that field is expanding quickly and that in a couple of years, we will have a lot more knowledge than we have now.
I raised the example of the ‘Geluksbudget‘ (Happiness budget, see here in Dutch) used in some Dutch municipalities. With this budget, socially deprived people are granted a sum of money they can invest in an intervention to increase their happiness. Marie Louise mentioned various initiatives, such as ‘National Neighbours Day‘ in the Netherlands, and the ‘Mobile Mini Circus‘ in Afghanistan. The Happiness Research Institute has also started to collect examples from happiness-based policies and so far has gathered about one hundred examples.
Want to know more?
See some tweets below and my powerpoint presentation to get an impression of the event.
— YPFP Brussels (@YPFPBrussels) June 4, 2015
— Denmark in Belgium (@DKinBelgium) June 4, 2015
— Erik Zolcer (@ErikZolcer) June 4, 2015