The American Pursuit of
Happiness & Well-being Index
GNH / GNW Index
A New Socioeconomic
Development Policy Framework
Paper Feb, 27, 2007 (EU Project)
Final Paper December 18, 2006
(addition of statistics
from NEF study)
Draft Policy White Paper V1.1 Jan 15, 2006
V1.0 Jan 4, 2005
The most important statement of the 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."
Are current government policies making us happier
or more stressed?
This white paper provides an analysis of the
mental and emotional health liabilities produced by the current 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.
Note: While this white paper is written for the United States
government, the analysis and recommendations are applicable to many
1. Statement of the Problem:
Why choose happiness as a subject for economic research?
and emotional well-being of citizens improves their performance and
broadens the intellectual, physical and social resources of a nation.
Our 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
The current American socioeconomic system does not help the mental
and emotional health of its citizens. According to the following
independent research studies:
The University of Michigan's World Values
Surveys (WVS) of 2004, ranks America at number 15 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 one thinks of various studies, and of their
ranking criteria, when it comes to happiness and
mental well-being, the world’s richest country (by GDP) does not
make it into the top ten and further studies suggest that it’s
Let's visit the first question again.
Are current government policies making us happier
or more stressed?
- 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 whose lifestyle is causing severe pressures
on their psychological, emotional and relationship health?
- How many people suffer from chronic workplace stress,
anxiety, low self-esteem, or some form of depression?
- Are the rates of social conflicts or sources of stress such
as 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 2005, but from our own research indicators, it appears
that it is getting worse. Doctors are now prescribing
antidepressants to children and adolescents more than ever.
Depressed or not, if you live in America,
you are probably burdened with more stress than previous generations
(and other countries)
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 in our society 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, rising taxes, economic demands, and
social and work pressures, far too many people are suffering from chronic
stress, anxiety or anger. The term "rat race" applies
more today than ever. Many people eventually experience this
high-pressure lifestyle as
burnout, exhaustion and/or depression. Many Americans are feeling
unhappy at home and at work.
Our research shows that current studies under-report the number of
people who suffer from frequent states of anxiety, depression, or
stress. When asked, the surveyed subjects think that prolonged or
frequent high-levels of social, work or economic stress are normal. Yet,
they desire much more happiness in life. They simply, gave up on
"happiness" and settled for "survival". But, it does not have to be this
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
countries, organizations and their 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
globalization initiatives exert an enormous pressure on the psyche
of the average individual and family. In many areas, those changes
enriched people's lives, and in some areas, they 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. (Scientists: please forgive the use of such colorful
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.
This section of the paper provides a list of strategic
recommendations proposed by the International Institute of Management to
increase America’s Gross National Happiness (GNH). The recommendations
address six main public policy areas: Government, Economics, Work,
Media, Education and Environment.
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
- Unsustainable economic development to sustainable
- 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
- 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
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 also a major source of
In 1972, Bhutan's King Jigme Wangchuck coined the term Gross
National Happiness (GNH) (in a casual remark in a public policy conference) to emphasize the holistic values of
his government policies and Buddhist spiritual values.
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 philosophy is to focus instead on the following
- Economic self-reliance,
- A pristine environment,
- The promotion of culture, and
- Good governance in the form of a democracy.
The past 30 years, Bhutan saw ad hoc
initiatives, but there is no specific policy or measurement
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.
Currently, there is no research or policy
framework to support this new concept.
There are few isolated subjective happiness surveys and a few
initiatives, such as Genuine Progress Index (or GPI) that considers the
environmental cost of GDP policies, but does not take into consideration
the mental and emotional health and well-being of the citizens.
A new integrated qualitative and quantitative
approach is needed to assist in the
creation of a new socioeconomic development model to measure and
monitor he development of the nation's most important asset - its
A second generation GNH concept (GNH 2.0) treating happiness as
a socioeconomic development metric is proposed by the International
Institute of Management. The institute proposes to call it Gross
National Wellness Index (GNW Index) or Gross National Happiness Index
(GNH Index), to credit the King of Bhutan for his inspiring
The metric measures the socioeconomic development by tracking seven
development area, including the nation's mental and emotional health.
The metric value is proposed to be an index function of the total
average per capita of the following subjective and objective measures:
- Mental Wellness: Indicated via direct
life satisfaction survey and statistical measurement of mental health
metrics such as usage of antidepressants and rise or decline of
the number of psychotherapy patients
- Physical Wellness: Indicated via statistical measurement of
physical safety and health metrics such as severe and chronic illnesses,
disability, obesity and unnatural deaths.
- Workplace Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and
statistical measurement of labor metrics such as job income,
purchasing power, jobless claims, job change, workplace
complaints and labor lawsuits
- 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, and crime rates
- Economic Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and
statistical measurement of economic metrics such as consumer
debt, minimum and average income to consumer price index ratio, income
distribution, disposal income available for retirement savings
- Environmental Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and
statistical measurement of living environmental metrics such as
nature and infrastructure quality including
pollution, noise and traffic.
- Political Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and
statistical measurement of political metrics such as the quality
of government such as local democracy, individual freedom, domestic and foreign
The above seven measurements were incorporated into the first
GNH Index Survey in 2005
While the proposed new GNW or GNH Index may not be all-inclusive or
provide a perfect measures, the consideration of the above parameters is
a good start when creating a new metric for
socioeconomic development and policy management. The results of such
survey help identify scientific relations, correlations and cause-effect
The institute has noticed an initial interest in the promotion of
a concept similar to
the GNH Index
in the western world. According to Nadia Mustapha’s
article in Time magazine, "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."
While there is an increased political interest
in GNH-similar initiatives, there are no concrete proposals that offer
an integrated multidimensional framework to help implement and measure
the performance new happiness initiatives. The proposed GNH Index can serve as a starting point for
Equal opportunity is not truly equal until all U.S. populations
have equal access to the same quality of education and equitable
Governments 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 a
dominating leadership style into a coaching
leadership style with better work and relationship ethics.
Without controlling free speech and the commercial rights of
media owners, the 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.
This will help change the public taste and demand for the type of
information and commercial media programs.
If one googles “antidepressants” he gets about six million
pages. If he does the same for "depression prevention" you will get less
than 50 thousand. If you google "happiness education" you will get less
than 500 results! 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
The institute recommends that happiness education starts in 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).
Institutionalize and enforce better policies to promote a cleaner and
safer environment. Example areas include city planning, art, spaces,
reduced pollution, noise, traffic, health, and so on.
What are White Papers?
White Papers provide businesses and government leaders with a
list of questions, terminologies and discussion points that can be used
to address existing or emerging challenges and opportunities. White
Papers are succinct advisory documents designed for communication and
problem-solving. The structure of the white paper includes three main
sections: 1). A statement of the problem or opportunity 2). Analysis of
root causes and driving forces 3). Proposed solution and implementation
About the Author
is the president of International Institute of Management, a US
based best practices research and education institute. The institute
research network includes 55 universities and research partners in
Royalty-free license is granted for
using or publishing for educational
purposes, provided that the
user/publisher includes a clear reference to the author(s) and
International Institute of Management
www.iim-edu.org (Please include
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use of GNH framework or GNH Index for consulting purposes
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Gross National Happiness
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