Gross National Happiness - GNH Research - GNH 2.0 Framework
Gross National Happiness - GNH Research - GNH 2.0 Framework

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Executive Journal > Strategy > Gross National Happiness (GNH) - A Policy White Paper

The American Pursuit of Unhappiness - Gross National Happiness (GNH) - A New Socioeconomic Policy

Executive White Paper
Med Jones, International Institute of Management

(Working Paper Draft V1.1)
(original date Jan 15, 2006)


The American Pursuit of Unhappiness: Gross National Happiness (GNH) -- A New Economic Metric

Executive Summary

The most important statement of U.S. political philosophy is that of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. It states:  We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." 

Now, let me ask you an honest question, is your government making you happier? 

This white paper provides an analysis of the mental and emotional health liabilities produced by the current American socioeconomic system. It also proposes several policy reforms to help address these liabilities. The paper summarizes the study in three sections: 1.  Statement of the problem; 2. Root cause analysis; 3. Recommendations.

Note: While this white paper is written for the United States government, the analysis and recommendations are applicable to most countries.

1. Statement of The Problem:

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.

I'm not trying to shock you by saying that the current American socioeconomic system does not help your mental and emotional health. A careful examination will reveal the true picture. According to the following independent research studies:

  • The University of Michigan's World Values Surveys (WVS) of 2004, ranks America at number 15th in population happiness.
  • The New Economics Foundation (NEF) study of 2006, uncovered a different world order where USA ranks at the 150th place.

Regardless of what you or I think of various studies, and of their ranking criteria, the fact is that when it comes to happiness and mental well-being, the world’s most advanced country does not make it into the top 10 and further studies suggest that it’s getting worse.

Let's go back to the first question again. Is our government making us happier? 

  • How many Americans are taking antidepressants or using alcohol or other forms of addictions as a way to cope with the pressures of the current socioeconomic system? Is the number declining or on the rise?

  • How many people do you know whose lifestyle is causing severe pressures on their psychological, emotional and relationship health?

  • How many people do you know suffer from chronic workplace stress, anxiety, low self-esteem, or some form of depression?

  • Are the rates of divorce, crime and lawsuits declining or on the rise?

According to the American Journal of Psychiatry the rates of depression across almost all demographic groups have risen in the United States over the past 10 years, with major depression rising from 3.33 percent of U.S. adults in 1991-1992 to 7.06 percent in 2001-2002: In other words, it has more than doubled. There are no available studies for 2006, but from what one can tell, it is getting worse. Doctors are now prescribing antidepressants to children and adolescents more than ever. 

Do you still believe that your government is concerned about your happiness? Depressed or not, if you live in America and you are one of the many people I know, your honest answer is no.


2. Root Cause Analysis:

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.

To be objective, it is not entirely the fault of the government. More has changed in the last decade technologically, culturally, politically and economically than the entire past century. The degree and speed of change has posed enormous challenges for nations, organizations and people. We are all feeling the influence of these changes, whether it’s the global competition, social re-engineering, political and military conflicts, outsourcing or power shifts. Unprecedented global initiatives exert an enormous pressure on the psyche of the average individual and family. In some areas those changes have robbed people of their lifetime investments whether it’s a retirement account, career or a long-term relationship, and in some cases those changes literally stole their souls and their future. 

To make things even more complex, most of today’s young professionals are entering this changing world under-educated and under-equipped to manage their own lives. While fluent in science, business or arts, they lack critical-thinking competency and life-management skills such as self-awareness (psychological and emotional), relationship management (communications and people skills) and social awareness (their social contract, rights and duties). Like their parents, most of the young professionals will drift through life racing for the "American Dream", going through very expensive trial-and-error lessons and struggling to achieve happiness and fulfillment. 

3. Recommendations

This final section of the paper provides a list of strategic recommendations proposed by International Institute of Management (IIM) to increase America’s Gross National Happiness (GNH). The recommendations address six main public policy areas: Government, Economics, Work, Media, Education and Environment.

A) Government

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

Government can also make substantial improvements by implementing the following recommendations:

  • Simplify people’s lives through reformed civil laws and taxes.
  • Establish new tax and budget policies in line with public mental, emotional and physical wellness goals. For example, provide funding for the promotion of positive psychology and cultural education in schools, workplaces and public media.
  • Shift policy priority from waging wars - a major source of socioeconomic stress and long-term liability -  to local socioeconomic development and foreign collaboration.

It is important to note that the success or failure of any new initiative is dependent on the sponsorship of the power centers within the socioeconomic system. The public must drive Congress to provide additional reforms to ensure honest representation by elected officials and by instituting controls on the abuse of power such as the promotion of private interests on the expense of public good which is a major source of socioeconomic stress.

B) Economics

In 1972, Bhutan's King Jigme Wangchuck coined the term Gross National Happiness (GNH) to emphasize the holistic values of economic development policies. While there has been no independent study to validate the success of Bhutan’s national policies, Wangchuck correctly asserts that economic growth does not necessarily lead to contentment. His government instead focuses on the four pillars of Gross National Happiness: economic self-reliance, a pristine environment, the promotion of culture, and good governance in the form of a democracy. Regardless of the King’s future success in formulating and executing his national policies, the concept remains a new and innovative way to look at modern socioeconomic development.

According to Nadia Mustapha’s article in Time magazine dated January 10, 2005, "The independent London-based think tank New Economics Foundation (NEF) is pushing for the implementation of a set of national well-being accounts that would tote up life satisfaction and personal development, as well as issues such as trust and engagement. The accounts would also include liabilities, such as stress and depression. In 2002, the Strategy Unit, an internal government think tank that reports to Prime Minister Tony Blair, conducted a seminar on life satisfaction and its public policy implications." Germany, Italy and France are also considering such studies.

There is a need for a new integrated qualitative and quantitative approach, as opposed to current subjective measures,  to assist in the creation of a new socioeconomic development metric to measure and monitor the development of the nation's most important asset - its people. 

A second generation GNH concept, treating happiness as a socioeconomic development metric, is proposed  by International Institute of Management. IIM proposes to call it Gross National Wellness (GNW) or second generation Gross National Happiness (GNH). The metric measures socioeconomic development by tracking 7 development area including the nation's mental and emotional health.  GNH/GNW value is proposed to be an index function of the total average per capita of the following measures:

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.

The above 7 metrics were incorporated into the first Global GNH Survey

While the proposed new GNW or GNH metric may not be all-inclusive or provide a perfect measure, the consideration of the above parameters is a good start when creating a new metric for the measurement of  socioeconomic development and policy management.

C) Work

Equal opportunity is not truly equal until all U.S. populations have equal access to the same quality of education and equitable development programs.

Government can institute new employment laws to promote life and work balance and to guarantee a healthy (mental and physical) work environment. Contrary to what some managers think, this recommendation does not have to incur additional costs or liabilities to their businesses, instead it will improve working relationships and productivity and reduce employee turnover. A smart corporate policy will ensure the development of its management team to transform an alpha-dominating/intimidating leadership style into a coaching leadership style with better work and relationship ethics.

D) Media:

Without controlling free speech and the commercial rights of media owners, government can fund public broadcasting to produce more educational and awareness programs to promote mental and emotional well-being, life management skills and social bonding. That will help change the public taste and demand for the type of information and commercial media programs.

E) Education:

If you google “antidepressants” you will get more then six million pages. If you do the same for "depression prevention" you will get less than 50 thousand. If you google "happiness education" you will get less than 500! Even when using different search phrases, the results are more focused on treatment than prevention. Many mild to moderate depression cases can be eliminated or at least greatly helped with personal life management and happiness education

Start in high schools by providing basic social education in applied formats to personal and relationship management including basic psychology, self-awareness, leadership development, communication skills, conflict resolution, and basic sociology (social contracts and civil duties).

F) Environment

Institute and enforce better policies to promote a cleaner and safer environment (city planning, art, spaces, reduced pollution, noise, traffic, health, and so on.)


About the Author

Med Jones is the President of International Institute of Management (IIM).  IIM is an advanced management research and leadership education institute.  IIM research network includes 55 universities and research partners in 40 countries. One of IIM’s main research areas is personal and organization development science with a focus on transformational leadership transformation, change management, performance management. For more information about the Gross National Happiness, please visit GNH Research

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