web analytics

Gross National Happiness

Written By: - Date published: 10:37 am, September 27th, 2011 - 6 comments
Categories: Economy, social democracy - Tags:

Happiness surrounds us in our lives; our music tells us to be happy, our facebook profiles suggest we’re always happy, and most of us have a willingness to work for material happiness. Yet happiness is a subject often missing from political discourse in our country, suppressed by talk of dairy and the dollar which dominates the halls of Parliament. This article will investigate the phenomenon of Gross National Happiness and how it might benefit New Zealand.

With the world walking into uncertain economic dangers, it seems appropriate to ask whether our leaders should seek guidance on our economic and social progression from Gross Domestic Product alone. The 20th century was dominated by bleak times of war and suffering dispersed throughout periods of extraordinary technological advancements. It also brought the era of consumerism and the ‘century of self’. This century grew upon the ideals of satisfying the emotional urges and feelings that drive citizens while suppressing underlying irrationalism. Economic growth has been seen as the goal, and satisfying emotional happiness appeared to be the ball.

The ideologies and governments of this century that promised happiness, have left people with more material possessions, but less psychological well-being. Many of those people are emotionally bankrupt and unhappy. The demands of life in our current socioeconomic system require that we keep running and running with little or no breaks. With increasing life costs, economic demands, and social and work pressures, most people are suffering from chronic stress, pain, anxiety, fear or anger. The term “rat race” applies more today than ever. Many people eventually experience this as burnout, exhaustion and/or depression. Many Americans are feeling unhappy at home and at work. (Source)

Might it be wise to introduce new measures to guide our society that truly fit our underlying social structures and help people cope with this “rat race” we call life? There seems no better opportunity than the period of global insecurities surrounding employment, an impending baby-boomer crisis, climate change, and stagnating economic growth that we’re experiencing right now.

Internationally, politicians have been warming to the idea of making happiness the centre of their social objectives for some time,

A recent survey (Easton, 2006) found that 81% of the UK population agreed that the Government’s primary objective should be the creation of happiness not wealth. Earlier this year David Cameron, HM Leader of the Opposition, put happiness firmly on the political agenda by arguing that “It’s time we admitted that there’s more to life than money, and it’s time we focused not just on GDP, but on GWB – general well-being” (BBC, 2006). (Source)

Striving to achieve happiness is not a new phenomenon of course; Aristotle claimed that happiness was the ultimate goal of humanity, and many nations have been founded on principles including the pursuit of happiness. However modern western societies, including our own, have been filling with prescriptions for depression and mental illness for the past few decades, I suppose some could argue the pursuit may have momentarily derailed, or at least taken a new twist.

That is not to say there has been no progress on the pursuit in the last few decades, it’s just that the pursuit has been dominated by private corporations. A Commentator suggests that this may not have brought expected consequences.

Whilst the interest in SWB within positive psychology is to be welcomed it is interesting to note that the commercial development of the subject is in the very countries where SWB is highest. This leaves positive psychology open to the accusation of selling self-help to the worried well.

The picture below is the first time such a study has been presented. The GWB data collected was compared against studies on health, education, and poverty. GWB correlated most with health, followed by wealthy and access to basic education.


Gross National Happiness (GNH) is the predecessor to the General Well-Being (GWB) movement currently being investigated by various governments. GNH was a term coined in 1972 by then Bhutan’s King Jigme Singye Wangchuck. It was designed “in an attempt to define an indicator that measures quality of life or social progress in a more holistic and psychological terms than only the economic indicator of gross domestic product.” There has been significant research and interest in how GNH can be measured and implemented in the last decade. This video is a great introduction:

Work is going on around the world to investigate more appropriate measures of social and economic progress than just GDP, one such initiative is Beyond GDP.

The Beyond GDP initiative is about developing indicators that are as clear and appealing as GDP, but more inclusive of environmental and social aspects of progress. Economic indicators such as GDP were never designed to be comprehensive measures of prosperity and well-being. We need adequate indicators to address global challenges of the 21st century such as climate change, poverty, resource depletion, health and quality of life.

The implications for introducing new measures in a society such as New Zealand could have profoundly positive consequences. Our political leaders making policy decisions based on our general level of happiness and not merely on our GDP could allow for innovative thinking in many areas of social and economic tradition.

Our country offering a happy lifestyle as a political priority would make an attractive prospectus to any would-be brain drainer and of course many displaced foreigners.

It becomes apparent as a kiwi travelling abroad that our country is seen as a bastion of environmental purity and tranquillity by many, but some are starting to question aspects of our international image.

Don’t we all have a stake in maintaining our aspirations of a 100% pure New Zealand? How can we achieve this with aspirations of an increased GDP alone?

Bringing discussion of a subject such as happiness into mainstream politics would allow for wide ranging debate and a path to addressing more fundamental concerns within our society. The first step, however, should be gaining the consensus of opposing ideological views on the subject matter itself If you’ve got to this point and aren’t ready to give up on this subject just yet, we should turn to some more in-depth research being carried out on the subject. A good starting point would be defining our objective, happiness; which is likely to an area of significant contention. Tony Delamothe, deputy editor of the British Medical Journal, offers some guidance:

Happy lives

  • The pleasant life—where you experience a succession of pleasures that lose their effect with repetition
  • The good life—where you play to your strengths and are “engaged”
  • The meaningful life—where you put your strengths at the service of something higher than yourself

A study carried out by the International Institute of Management called “The American Pursuit of Unhappiness: Gross National Happiness (GNH) – A New Economic Metric” builds on this definition and offers insight into why happiness is important for our economy. The paper states that “while this white paper is written for the United States government, the analysis and recommendations are applicable to most countries.”

Why choose happiness as a subject for economic research? The answer is simple: mental and emotional well-being of citizens improves their performance and broadens the intellectual, physical and social resources of a nation. Research has found that happy people have better health habits, lower blood pressure, stronger immune systems and higher endurance levels. They cause less stress on the national healthcare system. Citizens with better emotional and mental health are easier to relate to and work with, tend to be better decision makers, are more creative, and outperform peers in problem-solving, innovation, persistence and productivity.

The report goes on to argue that the role of government should shift from managing economic growth to socioeconomic development. No doubt in New Zealand significant effort is devoted to socioeconomic development already, but could it be time to make a more concerted effort to define what exactly our objectives are?

The role of government should shift from managing economic growth to socioeconomic development. American public policy should shift its focus from:

  • The standard of living to the quality of life
  • Material possessions to well-being (physical, mental, and material)
  • Unsustainable economic development to sustainable environmental development
  • Consumerism to investment
  • Economic-driven education to socioeconomic-driven education

The Global GNH Survey measures GNH using the following indicators, which appear to offer guidance as to how happiness might be measured:

1. Economic Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of economic metrics such as consumer debt, average income to consumer price index ratio and income distribution
2. Environmental Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of environmental metrics such as pollution, noise and traffic
3. Physical Wellness: Indicated via statistical measurement of physical health metrics such as severe illnesses, overweight, etc.
4. Mental Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of mental health metrics such as usage of antidepressants and rise or decline of psychotherapy patients
5. Workplace Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of labor metrics such as jobless claims, job change, workplace complaints and lawsuits
6. Social Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of social metrics such as discrimination, safety, divorce rates, complaints of domestic conflicts and family lawsuits, public lawsuits, crime rates
7. Political Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of political metrics such as the quality of local democracy, individual freedom, and foreign conflicts.

There are some New Zealand academics investigating the phenomenon of GNH, so if you’ve read this far then bonus points are at hand! Dr Ross McDonald, a professor at The University of Auckland, sets out his view on the impact of consumerism on our collective identity during one of his GNH discussions:

The consumer is the necessary ideal of capitalism – a type convinced that wellbeing necessitates accumulating ever greater volumes of goods. As a social entity however, the consumer has been proven to be a highly dysfunctional type. Its basic psychology revolves around a complex of dissatisfaction, social isolation and immunity to larger ethical sensibilities. It is hardly a type to encourage in any society aiming forging a sustainable and happy collective life.

Dr McDonald believes that before a society can introduce a measure such as Gross National Happiness it must first have a sustainable level of moral maturity. In another article on GNH, he discusses the consequences of consumerism and our lacking moral maturity:

Thus, we have come to inhabit a world in which a few hundred billionaires have more wealth than the poorest 2.5 billion people combined, one in which 40,000 children die each day from preventable starvation while wealthy countries throw out 15-20% of all food as uneaten waste, and one that is likely to be witness to the destruction of up to 25% of all living species as we seek ever greater market growth. Under the current doctrine of market pre-eminence, toxic pollution is a rapidly growing problem and global food security is in steep decline driven by collapsing fish stocks, changing weather patterns and declining soil fertility. National governments’ ability to contain the amorality of market ‘integration’ is on the decline as they become increasingly captured by the commercial imperatives that further embed gross inequalities in wellbeing. Millions are being driven into privation and dependence by the compete-or-die philosophy of the worlds dominating financial institutions … In sum then, post-Enlightenment modernity has lost its way as a direct function of its critical rejection of happiness as a conscious goal and of moral improvement as necessary.

The connection with happiness in Bhutan, the first country to introduce a GNH measure, draws many parallels with the philosophical teachings of Buddhism. In a society that has fallen foul of practicing traditional faith only to be replaced with a faith in the self, might a new way of measuring of our personal and collective satisfaction in life be called for, and how can this be achieved alongside developing a greater moral maturity?

The last words should be given back to Dr McDonald,

In Buddhist philosophy, happiness is an inseparable component of these [moral] maturities and thus, happiness as a goal cannot be practically separated from their preliminary cultivation. In significant part then, the question of how GNH might be maximised involves a more central question relating to how exactly generosity, sympathetic joy, loving-kindness and equanimity can be cultivated at all levels within a national polity – and extended to govern economic, ecological and social management.”


6 comments on “Gross National Happiness ”

  1. Happy is a crappy nappy. Gross National Happiness is a load of shit. Sounds like policy wank.
    Even Gareth Morgan’s semi-sensible discussion of alienation as excessive consumerism is nearer the mark. He at least recognises that there is something to do with alienation in the disaffection of today’s youth. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=10754600

    • Rijab 1.1

      sounds like someone needs some happy juice!

      GNH isn’t about creating policy to ensure happiness, it’s about giving politicians more tools in the toolkit to determine the best way forward for policy. Considering how obsessed our society (esp our youth) has become with material wealth and consumerism it might help guide the progress we so desperately need, especially if we’re about to enter another recession. I don’t disagree with you mentioning Morgan, the article you link to presents some very valid points!

      • dave brown 1.1.1

        Well rather the tool up the politicos I am in favour of rioting for happiness. Morgan gets halfway there but overlooks that alienation has a cause – capitalism. His is surely a kinder, fairer, simpler, and possibly happier capitalism but still doomed as we go down the gurgler to become happy juice for some superior civilisation.

  2. Afewknowthetruth 2

    The international money-lenders are dependent of perpetual expansion of their Ponzi scheme to maintain their stranglehold on western socieites. GDP is an important component of the narrative of deception that is told every day in order to keep uninformed ‘proles’ locked into the system. Hence, every day we hear the mantra demanding GDP growth (echoed by fuckwits on this forum).

    Hell would freeze over before TPTB would voluntarily give up their unearned benefits by adopting a Genuine Progress Index, or anything similar, that would blow their Ponzi scheme to pieces.

  3. Merkin 3

    Nice one Rijab, thanks for the post. It’s refreshing to read such a positive and spiritual critique of the malaise we call our ‘advance western society’. “Moral maturity” is not going to easily develop in a mediascape which promulgates ignorance, greed and hate. mmm, what to do? Challenge it of course, as many of the debates on this site do, and really throw an existential cat amongst it. Imagine if there was a discourse in this country around the concept of happiness – real happiness instead of this oh so failed model of material progress.

    Then again, we can just watch the rugger, buy shit and drink heaps of piss and she’ll be right eh? 

  4. While nobody can argue that consumer society has not, on the whole, made us ‘happier’, this is going to be an incredibly difficult mindset to change because whole generations have had this need to consume implanted in their minds at such a subconscious level.

    I’m a gen Y-er, so possibly a bit younger than the majority who comment here. My peers and I are perfectly aware on one level that buying stuff doesn’t make us happy. And indeed, many of us are rather unhappy, and critical of the consumer mentality. But on another level, the idea that we might be better off with less just somehow doesn’t register. Living modestly? No iphones and meals out and fashion and holidays? Blergh, boring.

    Guess people are just good at wanting things that aren’t good for them. Twas ever thus.

Recent Comments

Recent Posts

  • Temporary Accommodation Service activated to help flood affected Aucklanders
    The Government’s Temporary Accommodation Service (TAS) has been activated to support people displaced by the severe flooding and landslips in the Auckland region, Housing Minister Megan Woods says.  “TAS is now accepting registrations for people who cannot return to their homes and need assistance finding temporary accommodation.  The team will work ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 hours ago
  • Prime Ministers’ meeting reaffirms close trans-Tasman relationship
    Prime Minister Chris Hipkins and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese today held their first bilateral meeting in Canberra. It was Chris Hipkins’ first overseas visit since he took office, reflecting the close relationship between New Zealand and Australia. “New Zealand has no closer partner than Australia. I was pleased to ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    17 hours ago
  • Immediate humanitarian support to Türkiye and Syria following earthquakes
    New Zealand will immediately provide humanitarian support to those affected by the earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria, Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta announced today. “Aotearoa New Zealand is deeply saddened by the loss of life and devastation caused by these earthquakes. Our thoughts are with the families and loved ones affected,” ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    21 hours ago
  • Pākinga Pā site to be gifted back to local hapū
    An historic Northland pā site with links to Ngāpuhi chief Hongi Hika is to be handed back to iwi, after collaboration by government, private landowners and local hapū. “It is fitting that the ceremony for the return of the Pākinga Pā site is during Waitangi weekend,” said Regional Development Minister ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    23 hours ago
  • New initiatives to unlock Māori science and research resources
    The Government is investing in a suite of initiatives to unlock Māori and Pacific resources, talent and knowledge across the science and research sector, Research, Science and Innovation Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall announced today. Two new funds – He tipu ka hua and He aka ka toro – set to ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 day ago
  • Advancing our relationship in India
    Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta departs for India tomorrow as she continues to reconnect Aotearoa New Zealand to the world.  The visit will begin in New Delhi where the Foreign Minister will meet with the Vice President Hon Jagdeep Dhankar and her Indian Government counterparts, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 days ago
  • Government Northland housing investment to spark transformational change
    Over $10 million infrastructure funding to unlock housing in Whangārei The purchase of a 3.279 hectare site in Kerikeri to enable 56 new homes Northland becomes eligible for $100 million scheme for affordable rentals Multiple Northland communities will benefit from multiple Government housing investments, delivering thousands of new homes for ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    5 days ago
  • Government investment safeguards Waitangi Treaty Grounds
    The Government is supporting one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most significant historic sites, the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, as it continues to recover from the impacts of COVID-19. “The Waitangi Treaty Grounds are a taonga that we should protect and look after. This additional support will mean people can continue to ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    5 days ago
  • Battle of Ohaeawai remembered
    A memorial event at a key battle site in the New Zealand land wars is an important event to mark the progress in relations between Māori and the Crown as we head towards Waitangi Day, Minister for Te Arawhiti Kelvin Davis said. The Battle of Ohaeawai in June 1845 saw ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    6 days ago
  • More Police deployed to the frontline
    More Police officers are being deployed to the frontline with the graduation of 54 new constables from the Royal New Zealand Police College today. The graduation ceremony for Recruit Wing 362 at Te Rauparaha Arena in Porirua was the first official event for Stuart Nash since his reappointment as Police ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    6 days ago
  • Further support for upper North Island regions hit by significant weather
    The Government is unlocking an additional $700,000 in support for regions that have been badly hit by the recent flooding and storm damage in the upper North Island. “We’re supporting the response and recovery of Auckland, Waikato, Coromandel, Northland, and Bay of Plenty regions, through activating Enhanced Taskforce Green to ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    6 days ago
  • The Princess Royal to visit New Zealand
    Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has welcomed the announcement that Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal, Princess Anne, will visit New Zealand this month. “Princess Anne is travelling to Aotearoa at the request of the NZ Army’s Royal New Zealand Corps of Signals, of which she is Colonel in Chief, to ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    6 days ago
  • Government and horticulture sector target $12b in exports by 2035
    A new Government and industry strategy launched today has its sights on growing the value of New Zealand’s horticultural production to $12 billion by 2035, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said. “Our food and fibre exports are vital to New Zealand’s economic security. We’re focussed on long-term strategies that build on ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    7 days ago
  • Cost of living support extended for families and businesses
    25 cents per litre petrol excise duty cut extended to 30 June 2023 – reducing an average 60 litre tank of petrol by $17.25 Road User Charge discount will be re-introduced and continue through until 30 June Half price public transport fares extended to the end of June 2023 saving ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    7 days ago
  • More Kiwis in work as rising wages match inflation
    The strong economy has attracted more people into the workforce, with a record number of New Zealanders in paid work and wages rising to help with cost of living pressures. “The Government’s economic plan is delivering on more better-paid jobs, growing wages and creating more opportunities for more New Zealanders,” ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    7 days ago
  • Government boosts fund for Auckland flooding
    The Government is providing a further $1 million to the Mayoral Relief Fund to help communities in Auckland following flooding, Minister for Emergency Management Kieran McAnulty announced today. “Cabinet today agreed that, given the severity of the event, a further $1 million contribution be made. Cabinet wishes to be proactive ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • New Cabinet focused on bread and butter issues
    The new Cabinet will be focused on core bread and butter issues like the cost of living, education, health, housing and keeping communities and businesses safe, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has announced. “We need a greater focus on what’s in front of New Zealanders right now. The new Cabinet line ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • Prime Minister to meet with PM Albanese
    Prime Minister Chris Hipkins will travel to Canberra next week for an in person meeting with Australian Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese. “The trans-Tasman relationship is New Zealand’s closest and most important, and it was crucial to me that my first overseas trip as Prime Minister was to Australia,” Chris Hipkins ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • Government makes first payment to Auckland Flooding fund
    The Government is providing establishment funding of $100,000 to the Mayoral Relief Fund to help communities in Auckland following flooding, Minister for Emergency Management Kieran McAnulty announced. “We moved quickly to make available this funding to support Aucklanders while the full extent of the damage is being assessed,” Kieran McAnulty ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Government steps up to assist Auckland during flooding
    As the Mayor of Auckland has announced a state of emergency, the Government, through NEMA, is able to step up support for those affected by flooding in Auckland. “I’d urge people to follow the advice of authorities and check Auckland Emergency Management for the latest information. As always, the Government ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Poroporoaki: Titewhai Te Huia Hinewhare Harawira
    Ka papā te whatitiri, Hikohiko ana te uira, wāhi rua mai ana rā runga mai o Huruiki maunga Kua hinga te māreikura o te Nota, a Titewhai Harawira Nā reira, e te kahurangi, takoto, e moe Ka mōwai koa a Whakapara, kua uhia te Tai Tokerau e te kapua pōuri ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Enhanced Task Force Green Approved following Cyclone Hale
    Carmel Sepuloni, Minister for Social Development and Employment, has activated Enhanced Taskforce Green (ETFG) in response to flooding and damaged caused by Cyclone Hale in the Tairāwhiti region. Up to $500,000 will be made available to employ job seekers to support the clean-up. We are still investigating whether other parts ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • General Election to be held on 14 October 2023
    The 2023 General Election will be held on Saturday 14 October 2023, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced today. “Announcing the election date early in the year provides New Zealanders with certainty and has become the practice of this Government and the previous one, and I believe is best practice,” Jacinda ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 weeks ago
  • Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announces resignation
    Jacinda Ardern has announced she will step down as Prime Minister and Leader of the Labour Party. Her resignation will take effect on the appointment of a new Prime Minister. A caucus vote to elect a new Party Leader will occur in 3 days’ time on Sunday the 22nd of ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 weeks ago