Happiness Manifesto #2

This part of the book review on The Happiness Manifesto by Nik Marks is about how the policies and priorities of nations can nurture well-being (happiness).

There is a historical perspective to a nation's pursuit of happiness -- the US Declaration of Independence defines the unalienable human rights as being: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. One of the assumptions of modern life is that the pursuit of happiness is based on financial prosperity. In most cases the political agenda is to ensure that there is a 'moving forward' on economic growth. There are two main reasons why this policy presents a problem -- the first is that beyond a basic economic need there is little evidence that an increase in economic prosperity generates more happiness in individuals.  Secondly, by blindly seeking economic growth we are creating a whole set of social and environmental issues that undermine the happiness and well-being of future generations -- it is not sustainable.

Nik Marks, founder the UK think tank, nef (new economic foundation), addressed some of these issues and has carried out research on the well-being of nations. Traditionally GDP has been the method of measuring the prosperity of a nation, Nik proposed that a more important measure was the Happy Planet Index (HPI).

This is measured by:  Happy Planet Index = Happy Life Years/Ecological Footprint

Why is the happiness of people important to a nation? Happy people suffer from fewer illnesses, they develop stronger relationships, have better job performance, are less likely to be unemployed and live up to 10 years longer.

But how do we get to that basic economic level where our living needs are met? We can not ignore the issue of global poverty and the fact that despite all our aid programmes global poverty has not changed in the last 20 years. Recently I completed a MOOC course offered by MIT on Global Poverty and the conclusion of the course was that the solution to global poverty is complex and is not solved by transplanting successful bits from rich countries. Whether you live in a rich or a poor country depends largely on the prevailing institutions and these were sometimes established by happy accidents. Democracy, according to the West, is seen as a prerequisite but China is a good counter- example of this.

How did China become the second largest economy without democracy? How did they manage to get their economic policy right? According to Michael Spence, a Nobel Prize laureate in Economics, the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in 1979 sought help from the World Bank and asked them how to run a market economy. He brought the leading figures from around the world to give lectures and teach the Chinese how to manage the transition to a market economy. And it worked -- and it has been a win - win situation for everyone. This type of outreaching and global networking for the best solutions encourages me to believe that we are indeed moving towards an Empathic Civilisation (for further details see a previous posting).