UN hosts meeting on looking beyond GDP to measuring happiness and well-being

In early April, 650 leaders from around the world met at the UN in New York for a High Level Meeting on Wellbeing and Happiness: Defining a New Economic Paradigm.  Yes Magazine provides a good overview of the meeting, which began with stirring statements by the Prime Minister of Bhutan, the President of Costa Rica, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who cited Aristotle and Buddha in calling for the replacement of our current economic system with one based on happiness, well-being, and compassion. “Social, economic, and environmental well-being are indivisible” he said.  See many of these opening statements on this conference website.

During the meeting, John Helliwell, Lord Richard Layard, and Jeffrey Sachs introduced the World Happiness Report, a study they prepared for the conference. The report found that money and economic growth have a relatively weak correlation to happiness; happiness is much more strongly associated with things like community engagement, having lots of friends, doing work you love, and feeling a sense of trust in others. Altruism, too, is essential; a world that makes equity, care, and compassion more possible will be a happier world. As the authors write:

The realities of poverty, anxiety, environmental degradation, and unhappiness in the midst of great plenty should not be regarded as mere curiosities. They require our urgent attention, and especially so at this juncture in human history. …if we act wisely, we can protect the Earth while raising quality of life broadly around the world. We can do this by adopting lifestyles and technologies that improve happiness (or life satisfaction) while reducing human damage to the environment.

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Jim Cummings

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