Category Archives: About For A State Of Happiness

Sabbatical

Hello! Welcome to For A State of Happiness. I hope you’ll enjoy the blog.

From 2013 to 2016, I’ve written weekly blog posts on topics around happiness. I’ve started a sabbatical now, and my blog posts are on hold. I explain the reason for my break from blogging in this post. In short: TL;DR boils down to the notion that the world may not be ready for the ‘beyond GDP’ agenda yet, and I’ll give myself some breathing space before I move on.

For the moment, I’m spending time on reading happy books and devising new plans to make the world a happier place.

That doesn’t mean that there is nothing to do here, though. In the last years, I’ve written a lot about happiness from three angles: personal happiness, happiness at work, and happiness at the level of the state and our society. If you browse the categories and tags on the right, or check the indices (season 2013-14, 2014-15, 2015-16), you’ll be able to find a lot of interesting pieces. My highlights? Learning all on Gross National Happiness in Bhutan and speaking at the Wellbeing Forum in Mexico.

I am still available for doing talks, presentations and workshops on happiness (see some previous ones here, here and here), so do contact me if you are interested. Or if you like my work and want to get a coffee, feel free to get in touch via jasper [@] forastateofhappiness [dot] com!

Enjoy your exploration and the pursuit of happiness!

Index: For A State of Happiness, season 2015-2016

For A State of Happiness is on off-season now, but just like with TV series, you can always watch back your favourite episodes.

See below the index of the posts of season 3, 2015-2016.

September

October

November

December

January

February

March

April

May

June

July

A world beyond GDP: are we ready yet?

On the road to discover how happiness works, I learned a lot about happiness in my own personal life – and in your personal lives, too. I’ve also gained a lot of insight in happiness at work. But the main focus of my research effort has been around another question: is there something our governments can do to make us happy?

Allow me to dwell on this question today, before I start my ‘sabbatical’ as a blogger.

I am sure that governments can make us happier, and that they should aim to do so. There are many governments that are taking happiness-based data into account when setting policies. Gross National Happiness (GNH) in Bhutan is more of philosophical guide than a hands-on policy tool, but it shapes the narrative of the government’s action. Regions in the EU and elsewhere learn from the OECD Better Life Index and Regional Well-Being Index and from Social Progress Index (SPI). And on the local level, there is an uncountable number of projects where municipalities and social society players take happiness as inspiration in social, environmental and other projects.

 

GDP, an increasingly poor measure of prosperity

On one of the bigger and more abstract questions I have countered on the road is whether our data helps us to work on happiness. I’ve time and again argued that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has plenty of limitations. Instead, I assessed the virtue of alternative indicators mentioned above. And I have been far from alone in this endeavour. Back in 1968, Robert F. Kennedy already decried that GDP measures everything, except that which makes life worthwhile. In the last ten years, the debate on ‘beyond GDP’ has been particularly fierce. A cover article of the Economist some months ago summarised these limitations very well, and labelled GDP “an increasingly poor measure of prosperity”.

Can we do without GDP? Does the acceptance of the constraints of GDP mean that a real competitor has risen to the stage? Did we get anywhere in those ten years?

After three years of researching, I fear that my answers: no, we cannot yet do without . No, there is no real competitor. And no, maybe we haven’t made as much progress as we like to think. In the remainder of this post, I explain why.

Kennedy GDP

 

Can we do without GDP?

Ever since its creation in the 1930s, GDP provides important information about national accounts and the size of the economy. It simply measures all production that has been created in a certain territory in a year. These data are important to inform decisions on investment, government spending, and taxation. But all too often, GDP becomes a proxy for progress or prosperity. As a tool, it only measures part of productive economy: GDP falls when a man marries his maid. Indeed, if they don’t increase the economy, GDP discounts social and environmentally desirable activities, such as household work.

Furthermore, GDP is an artificial number. Figures are routinely revised, often upwards and by large margins. After a new method is used in Ireland, GDP growth is not an already significant 7.6% over 2015, but a whopping 26% as a result of some accounting tricks. Imagine the consequences: in terms GDP per capita, Irish are suddenly a lot richer, and the budget deficit shrinks by the stroke of a pen!

Despite all these limitations, GDP is probably a bit like democracy. In Churchill’s words, democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others. We still need GDP as a tool to measure economic activity, to make sense of poverty, and to determine how much tax we need to pay to run our common society. It might still be the best we can do?

 

Is there any competition?

Or can we? In this blog, I’ve covered many alternative indicators, from GNH to the OECD Better Life Index to the SPI, but also the UN’s Humanitarian Development Index and even the Happy Planet Index. In my view, these are good as part of driving the narrative for a broader sense of well-being and progress. Tools like the OECD Better Life Index, GNH and the SPI can be helpful in spotting where governments need to focus resources to increase quality of life.

But they aren’t appropriate for all economic purposes. All indicators have a stronger element of arbitrary and political choices. As such, they’re too political to be used in a more economic context. Countries simply would refuse to determine financial contributions to the United Nations based on performance in the HDI, or EU regional funds based on a regional SPI score. GDP too often is seen as the more ‘objective’ metric, and even though it is not objective or stable, it is doing better than alternatives. Intriguingly, GDP is also strongly correlated with performance like HDI and SPI, even around 80% for the latter index. Although the SPI is making advances in feeding into policy, altogether none of the indices is truly challenging the position of GDP as things stand in 2016. And I don’t think it will be very different in 2018, 2020, or 2025 for that matter.

 

Did we make so much progress?

Then, how much progress did we make in several decades of an academic debate, and overall ten years of statistical revolution? A lot has happened. Our insights in quality of life and happiness is a deeper than at any moment in history. OECD statistical offices are now routinely gathering data on subjective wellbeing, and there is a vibrant research agenda in positive psychology and related fields. Academics and practicioners, myself included, happily travel to Bhutan to learn about GNH.

But what was generated out of this debate? Are we paying more attention to quality of life after the financial crisis? A single indicator truly competing with GDP has not been born. UN and EU authorities, as well as national governments and parliaments, have underlined the importance of alternative ways of measuring progress. But the reign of GDP has never been in danger. My feeling is that GDP is simply too important, and the alternatives too complex. I fear that we’re not ready for this revolution yet.

 

Time for a sabbatical

Three years on the road, my doubts on the alternatives to GDP are back. I see the beyond GDP agenda as a powerful discussion, but one that has not generated a strong enough alternative to truly challenge GDP.

On a personal level, this means that a reflection on my work is needed. Do I need to focus on something else? Do I need to work harder, or differently, for a state of happiness? Did I fail myself?

For the moment, I’ll take a break from this blog. I’ll reflect on other steps. I deserve to take some time off for a sabbatical to read more and generate other ideas. But I am sure I’ll be back with a new programme.

Because a life, enjoyably wasted in the pursuit of happiness, is a life worth wasting. Farewell!

Index: For A State of Happiness, season 2014-2015

It’s almost August, time for summer holidays… or to catch up with some of the posts on For A State of Happiness that you may have missed?

These are the topics I covered in the last eleven months, of the season 2014-2015:

September

October

November

December

January

February

March

April

May

June

July

thats-all-folks

 

… for this season!

Read all? There’s always season 2013-2014, and For A State of Happiness will be back in September.

Event on Beyond GDP, 4 June in Brussels

Can human happiness be a basis for policy-making?

To hear my thoughts on this topic, join the event on “Beyond GDP – Why Happiness is Good Policy” on 4 June at 19.00 in Brussels. Find the details and the link to the registration form here.

The event is organised by the Danish Embassy in Brussels and the Young Professionals in Foreign Policy (YPFP). The main speaker is Marie Louise Dornoy, a researcher at the Danish Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen. The Institute is a think-tank dedicated to the study of happiness and well-being, as well as policies and interventions to increase them.

Full text of the invitation:

beyond gdp event

Picture by Camdiluv, Chile, taken from WIkipedia.

WHAT: Beyond GDP – Why Happiness is Good Policy
WHEN: Thursday, 4 June, 19.00 – 20.30
WHERE: Danish Church, Rue Washington 27, 1050 Brussels (Ixelles)
WHO:YPFP Members and friends. In the event of over-subscription, YPFP members will be given preference.

REGISTER: https://goo.gl/Gf88IH

Can human happiness be a basis for policy-making?

In the 1970s, Bhutan based its public policy on the concept of ‘Gross National Happiness’ (GNH). Instead of economic goals championed by Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the aim of GNH is to contribute to public policies that directly affect the well-being of citizens.
Since the early 2000s, global discussions on ‘beyond GDP’ policies have sought to include happiness as an alternate criteria for policy-making.

On Bhutan’s initiative, the UN adopted a resolution recognising the human aspiration to happiness. The UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network reports on world happiness levels. The 2015 World Happiness Report ranks Switzerland, Iceland and Denmark as the three happiest countries in the world. But ‘beyond GDP’ policies are also questioned. Can governments legitimately decide what happiness is? Can public policy really increase well-being? Does a focus on happiness distract governments from more important policy objectives?

Join our discussion with:
- Marie Louise Dornoy, Research & Communications, The Happiness Research Institute, Copenhagen, Denmark
- Jasper Bergink, Editor and Happiness Researcher, For a State of Happiness

Please note that you will be asked to provide ID details upon registration. Participants will need to provide photo ID to gain entry to the event.

Index: For A State of Happiness, season 2013-2014

I am off in August, but don’t stress. There are over 40 posts on happiness in the season 2013-2014, so there must be something to catch up with.

Here’s an index of what I wrote on in the last ten months:

September 2013

  • 30: ‘On the Road‘. Inspired by Jack Kerouac, I start my journey dedicated to the discovery of happiness

October

  • 7: A Happiness Bookshelf. Moving in my new apartment, I created a bookshelf with happiness books to make my house a happy place.
  • 12: The manufacture of happiness. Together with my former colleague Maroussia, I wrote about how we can fabricate happiness – and it’s still authentic!
  • 14: I do like Mondays. Mondays. They’ve a bad reputation, but I think they’re fine. Monday is my blogging day.
  • 21: Matthieu Ricard’s plea for altruism. Matthieu Ricard is quite an interesting figure. A scientist, a monk, and arguably a happiness popstar? He now has written a book on altruism.
  • 28: Never trust Einstein’s wisdom. There are great quotes on happiness all over the internet. But who said those words?

November

December

January

  • 6: The lottery of happiness. When winning a lottery brings misery instead pleasure.
  • 12: The Happy City. Lessons from Bhutan. Stadsleven organises a talkshow about happiness in Amsterdam. I wrote a post about what Bhutan and Gross National Happiness could teach the city.
  • 20: Fitter, happier. Radiohead has a song about New Year’s Resolutions!
  • 27: Utopia. In a Dutch TV show, fifteen people try to build the ultimate society.

February

  • 3: The Happy City. After the Stadsleven talkshow, I share what I learnt about the design and social fabric of a happy city.
  • 7: hAPPiness. A guest post by Sanne of Stadsleven on how iPhone apps and Twitter can measure our happiness.
  • 10: The politics of well-being. Why are happiness and well-being so difficult for politicians?
  • 17 : Gross European Happiness. In a guest post for YPFP, I challenge EU policy-makers to take up the challenge to make Gross European Happiness a reality.
  • 24: The special power of music. Music = happiness. Clearly.

March

April

  • 7: Frohes Schaffen. On our identity as workers.
  • 14: Tune in to radio. Announcing I joined a radio show, and giving some hints about questions on happiness I want to answer.
  • 21: Condivivere - a neologism for ‘sharing life’ in Italian. That was what I took from the radio show!
  • 28: Apart from Christmas time, the only day I skipped… Let’s say it was my Easter break.

May

  • 5: Serious play & happy gin-tonics. I spent a Saturday trying to record an own version of Pharrell’s Happy. The efforts failed but it was fun anyway!
  • 12: An EU Happiness Manifesto. I didn’t run for election, but wanted to inspire candidates for the EU elections.
  • 19: Runner’s high: “the body of man is capable of much curious pleasure”. Or, the feast of completing the 20 kilometers of Brussels. Running, that is.
  • 26: The EU elections. Taking a break from happy-blogging, I wrote about the ‘empty side’ of the European Parliament and the embarrassment in France after the EU elections instead.
  • 29: Felicita! Sharing the lessons from my radio interview (in Italian) about happiness

June

  • 2: The Independent’s Top 100 (of happiness, not of wealth). Personal stories about unknown people who make Britain happier, every day.
  • 11: The Happiness Advantage: Shawn Achor has a conviction: being happy makes us more successful.
  • 16: Van Persie, football & happiness. On the contribution made by a pass by Daley Blind and a header by flying Dutchman Robin van Persie to my happiness.
  • 23: RFK: measure what makes life worthwhile. The background of the quote (courtesy Robert F. Kennedy) that made me question Gross Domestic Product and look for well-being as an alternative.
  • 30: Where the life is good. On the benefits of regional, instead of national, well-being and happiness statistics collected by the OECD. How do you think Brussels is doing?

July

  • 7: A feel good video to witness happiness. How a commercial for a Thai life insurer teaches us about happiness (I know, who would have thought!).
  • 14: How will buy your happiness?. The old-age question: can money buy happiness? TED speaker Michael Norton helps me to answer: yes, if spent wisely, it does!
  • 21: The morality of the market. With the help of philosopher Michael Sandel, I ask whether friends can be rented and everything can be bought.
  • 28: On the road, the sequel. The discovery of happiness started in September. And in July, I summarise what I learnt before taking my holiday break.

Enjoy the summer and see you back in September for the season 2014-2015!

On the road, the sequel

The first post on For A State of Happiness appeared ten months ago. After preparing for several months, I had promised myself to launch the blog in September. I barely made the deadline – the first post was written on the evening of Monday 30 September, in half an hour.

With an allusion to Jack Kerouac, I wrote that this was my first step on the road to the discovery of happiness.

And indeed, I’ve discovered a couple of things about happiness in the last year. I had promised myself to work seriously on the blog for at least a year. 40+ blog posts later, I think I am well on my way!

And these are some of the things I learnt in the last year:

Happiness indeed is a discovery.

There are so many different ways of looking at it: from the perspectives of psychology, economics, political science, neuroscience, genetics, behavioral economics, philosophy. Learning never ends.

Happiness is personal – and collective

One of the most interesting things of happiness, I think, is that happiness both a very personal thing (about our personal happiness) and a collective thing (about quality of life, well-being and the common good in a state or society). This conviction has grown more and more in me.

Happiness reveals itself in small bits and pieces

Writing one (interesting) blog post a week on happiness is easy! Since it’s such a broad topic, there are many ways to approach the topic. The ultimate article on happiness does not exist. But with every blog posts, one element of happiness reveals itself. Every piece of a large caleidoscope of happiness.

Everybody is searching for happiness

At least everybody I know. That means that both friends and strangers are interested in my endeavours to understand happiness. It has motivated me to look into aspects I hadn’t thought of, to publish elsewhere, and to create a newsletter.

You might wonder what the effect on my own happiness is. I did not start this project to become happier. The aim was to understand happiness, not to be it. But still, as a side effect, it has helped me to be happier. Reading a lot about happiness, I’ve learnt how certain mechanisms in the human brain work.

I’m more aware of how my brain (and my heart) react to positive and negative experiences. Sometimes I get frustrated about something small and insignificant. Maybe I miss a metro, and I’m very impatient waiting for the next one. I’ve started to diagnose myself in these situation, and tell myself: “this moment of frustration will disappear. You can’t control when the metro arrives, but you can influence how you deal with it. Just leave it”.

The first year of this blog has been extremely good. Over the year, being a happiness blogger became part of who I am. And I know the next year will be very interesting as well. I have some great ideas to develop the blog and myself as a happiness researcher. I’ll work a bit on that in the summer. And after that, the road to the discovery of happiness will continue.

I’m taking off August, see you back in September! And in case you can’t wait that long, take a look at some of the posts you might have missed during the season 2013-2014.

 

 

 

The second newsletter is out

The second newsletter is out!

The newsletter of the blog is called ‘A Little Dose of Happiness’, and wants to do exactly that: ship a little dose of happiness, straight to your inbox.

If you missed it, drop me a line. And of course, you can subscribe to the newsletter here.

 

A screenshot of (part of) the second edition:

Picture 2

My newsletter is out!

My first newsletter is out! I’ve titled it ‘A Little Dose of Happiness’, and that is exactly what I want to do every six weeks: provide you with a little dose of happiness, directly in your mailbox. If you missed the first one, write me at jasper.bergink -at- gmail.com and I’ll send you a copy.

You can subscribe to the newsletter here

 

A screenshot of (part of) the first edition:

FSH newsletter

Felicità!

“At school, they teach you about the capital of the Netherlands, but they don’t teach you how happiness works.”

That’s one of my key messages when I spoke at Radio Alma last month. You can find the show (in Italian) online on the website of Radio Alma.

And if you want the full picture, I already wrote about the interview the week before and after my chat with hosts Rossella, Tiziana and Leandro.

Buon divertimento!

E per felicità ulteriore:

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