How to increase happiness (Blue Wings 2/2017)

Kansanedustajien blogit

I have always felt the way we  measure the wealth of nations is old-fashioned. The notion of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was all good and well during the industrialisation of the 1900s, but in the new millennium it focuses on the wrong metrics.

That’s why I was very excited to meet the Minister of Happiness of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Ohood Bint Khalfan Al Roumi. She and I discussed the wellbeing of nations.

Naturally it’s difficult to measure the happiness of a nation or what a country should do in order to boost it. The feeling of happiness is personal and by definition subjective. We get satisfaction from different things.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle was correct in pointing out that happiness depends on ourselves more than anyone else. The US Constitution talks about “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The point here is that government does not secure happiness; rather it provides the conditions under which an individual can pursue his or her dreams.

Bhutan was the first country to start thinking about measurements beyond GDP. In 1972 they established the four pillars of Gross National Happiness (GNH): sustainable development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of nature, and establishment of good governance.

A World Happiness Report has been published since 2012. It argues that happiness is a better measure of human welfare than income, poverty, education, health, and good government measured separately.

Perhaps, but how do you measure it? The annual World Happiness Index provides a partial answer.

It ranks 157 countries, based on six factors: GDP, life expectancy, generosity, social support, freedom, and corruption. The top ten happiest countries are Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Canada, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia, and Sweden. The unhappiest countries are Burundi, Syria, Togo, and Afghanistan.

This list shows that we cannot exclude economic welfare and basic needs as foundations of a happy nation. The top ten countries are not only rich, but they can be considered to be modern welfare states with a relatively equal distribution of income. The bottom four have been, or are, plagued by inequality, war, and poverty.

We are fortunate to live in a time where war, famine, and disease do not kill the majority of the world’s population like they used to. This is not to deny that all three still exist and cause death. But governments are freer to focus on other aspects of the well-being of their citizens.

Governments or ministers do not create individual happiness, but they can focus on at least five things that create the right conditions for individuals to thrive: security, health care, education, equality, and infrastructure.

It is important that countries start to look beyond the economy for happiness and well-being. Cynics might scold the idea of a Minister of Happiness, but I think the UAE has got it right.

Currently the UAE ranks number 28 in the World Happiness Index, which is the best score in the region. I predict they will climb the ladder fast. If you do not believe me take a direct Finnair flight to Dubai, and check it out for yourself.