We could never learn to be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world.

~ Helen Keller ~

Please No Gross National Happiness

July 7th, 2013 ~ Est. reading time: 1 min, 56 secs

How can anyone measure this kind of happiness?

How can anyone measure this kind of happiness?

We don’t need a Gross National Happiness. It’s meant to measure a nation’s average happiness in the same way economists measure Gross Domestic Product (or “GDP”).

Despite the good intentions behind the idea, newsreaders cannot advise you between breaks that the country’s Gross National Happiness took a hammering in the last quarter. Or, that the government will hold an inquiry into why Gross National Happiness is flagging below projected targets.

As well and good as it may seem I take issue with people trying to assess happiness with figures. For starters, how can they meaningfully do it? Can you measure group happiness that accurately? And, what about your particular brand of happiness?

Would your happiness quotient be calculated as an average, taken over successive weekdays maybe? Or, would it take in every day? If so, would it be continual, taking into account the rise and fall of feelings in a day? Because if it did, the Gross National Happiness level would get terribly complex to measure.

Then again, you might factor in more of the satisfaction end of happiness (like: “Are you happy living in your house?” “Do you still feel good being married?” and “Do you still think your country is a great place to live?”).

Can you see how infernally tricky this all is? First you’ve got to measure the immeasurable, standardize the personal, and quantify the constantly variable. Simple it isn’t.

For a common idea, happiness is surprisingly individual and complex. It won’t do for any authority to dictate to you what happiness is if it’s about you personally and nor should they assume they know.

Gross National Happiness doesn’t make sense any more than Gross Domestic Thinking. Some things, by their very nature, aren’t open to measurement. So it might be better to take a step away and measure tangibles like how many products a country produces, how much money gets spent, how many people have a home.

What we need is for leaders to consider the kinds of things people seem to need to provide the basics for wellness and live independently, like:

  • A place to live 
  • Food on the table
  • Heating and cooling 
  • Clothing
  • Transport
  • Purposeful work 
  • Clean water to drink
  • Sanitation

and so on.

Provide these resources and people can experience greater happiness. Add more and more benefits and the effect seems to deaden. or even reverse. Which means GDP,  and other empirical measures fall flat in much the same way that Gross National Happiness does in determining how gratified we are. Only you know whether you are happy or not, and no amount of poking, prodding, or bean counting calculation can ever do it for you.

Is Happiness Just Genes?

I Want To Be Happy Right Now

What Makes A Happy Kitchen?

  1. Jonathan says:

    I think the new Social Progress Index might interest you.

    • Feegs says:

      Thanks Jonathan. Yes, I had a look and it certainly does look promising. Much more of a broadbrush approach to big issues. Thanks for drawing my attention to a worthy project (and for those who want to check it out, go to – my hyperlink thingy is having a little hissy)