Tag Archives: Ypfp

Beyond GDP event: does happiness make good policy?

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. 

Part of the conference was live-tweeted. For some of the coverage, see the accounts @YPFPBrussels and @DKinBelgium or the hashtag #YPFPBXL

 

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.

Gross European Happiness: A Challenge for EU Policymakers in 2014

At the end of January, the place to be for the political chic was the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos. Politicians, economist and business leaders met to discuss myriad fundamental challenges to our future, from internet governance to global poverty.  The WEF also saw the presentation of a report on “Assessing Global Land Use: Balancing Consumption with Sustainable Supply.

Behind this boring title, the International Resource Panel (IRP), a UN think tank, hid a compelling argument: The demand for food and fuel puts an enormous pressure on our ecosystem. On current trends, between 320 and 849 million hectares of natural land worldwide (the latter number nearly being the size of Brazil) will be converted into cropland in the next 35 years. Such an expansion would harm soil productivity, forest cover and biodiversity. That would be a disaster, thus it is imperative to break the link between resource consumption and economic development.

Measuring progress

The conclusions are no surprise to ‘beyond GDP’ campaigners, whom have for years pointed out the limitations of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) calculations. GDP measures the total economic value of all goods and services produced within one country in one year. Though a valuable indicator for economic wealth, GDP has its setbacks. It ignores environmental and social costs – such as land degradation, pollution and social tension.

A rich country is not always one that makes people happy or increases their well-being. Yet, GDP growth has become a proxy for progress. Most government policies are based on the idea that growth is necessary. Policymakers seldom ask themselves how their policies impact well-being or happiness at large.

The beyond GDP movement believes governments should use alternative indicators to steer their policies. Gross National Happiness (GNH), developed in the 1970s in the Himalaya kingdom of Bhutan, is the most famous alternative. GNH aims to measure the well-being of Bhutan’s citizens, and is the core element shaping public policy. The index measures 124 variables concerning people’s economic situation, education, health, psychological well-being, time use, and community life. In the last decades, GNH has inspired countries and global organizations worldwide, including the UN, the OECD, France and the UK.

Moving forwards

Despite this the EU has done little to shift its focus to human well-being.  Since the onslaught of the economic crisis, policies have focused primarily on restoring economic growth. While growth clearly helps in avoiding hardship, the EU can learn a lot from the likes of Bhutan. Five years ago, the EUCommission adopted a policy paper, “GDP and beyond. Measuring progress in a changing world.” But it hasn’t acted on this since.

This must change. The EP elections in 2014 offer a great opportunity to reset the system. Following these elections, and the appointment of a new Commission I propose these two institutions follow Bhutan’s approach and take Gross European Happiness (GEH), not GDP, as their guiding principle for economic and social development.

Gross European Happiness

What does GEH mean? In principle, it’s only a change in accounting systems. Our current accounting system is GDP, and we use it to measure economic growth. What you measure defines your frame of reference. Had we measured our well-being as closely as we’re now doing with GDP, Europe would be a different place. Therefore, the first step of the new Commission President should be to create a European version of Bhutan’s GNH Index. A GEH index, based on European values and aiming to track the development over time of Europeans’ objective well-being, must be created to measure progress in a more meaningful way.

EU policies will get a reboot with new MEPs and Commissioners in office later this year. It’s time to convince them of the benefits of GEH. Robert F. Kennedy once said that GDP measures everything in life, except that what makes it worthwhile. EU policymakers should take his words to heart. GEH is the answer.

This article was first published at the blog of the Young Professionals in Foreign Policy (YPFP).