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|Happiness and Well-being: Defining a New Economic Paradigm|
The small country of Bhutan has captured the imagination of governments, civil society and the UN with its proposition of Gross National Happiness, leading to the 'High-Level Meeting on Happiness and Wellbeing' convened in New York at the beginning of April 2012.
2nd April 2012 - Published by UN News Centre
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today highlighted the need for an economic paradigm that incorporates social and environmental progress in efforts to achieve sustainable development.
“Gross National Product (GDP) has long been the yardstick by which economies and politicians have been measured. Yet it fails to take into account the social and environmental costs of so-called progress,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his remarks at a high-level meeting at UN Headquarters in New York.
Convened by the Government of Bhutan, the meeting – “Happiness and Well-being: Defining a New Economic Paradigm” – brought together hundreds of representatives from governments, religious organizations, academia and civil society to discuss the issue.
In the early 1970s, the Himalayan kingdom introduced a new measurement of national prosperity, focussing on people’s well-being rather than economic productivity. In recent years, there has been growing interest in this concept – known as “gross national happiness” (GNH) – with the General Assembly adopting a resolution in 2011, which noted, inter alia, that the gross domestic product (GDP) indicator “does not adequately reflect the happiness and well-being of people in a country.”
“We need a new economic paradigm that recognizes the parity between the three pillars of sustainable development. Social, economic and environmental well-being are indivisible. Together they define gross global happiness,” the Secretary-General told the meeting’s participants.
Mr. Ban praised the Bhutanese Government for initiating the meeting, and noted that other countries have also started to explore various ways to measure prosperity that go beyond material wealth, such as Costa Rica, which strongly supports environmentally responsible development, and the United Kingdom, where statistical authorities are experimenting with measuring ‘national well-being.’
The Secretary-General stressed that sustainable development is intricately linked to happiness and well-being, and underlined that the UN Sustainable Development Conference, also known as Rio+20, in Brazil in June, will need to provide an outcome that reflects this.
The President of the General Assembly, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, echoed Mr. Ban’s remarks. He emphasized that “today’s unprecedented ecological, economic and social challenges have made the achievement of happiness and well-being an unachievable goal for many,” adding that a new economic paradigm that takes into account not only economic growth but environmental protection and social development is needed.
“It is imperative that we build a new, creative guiding vision for sustainability and our future,” Mr. Al-Nasser said. “One that will bring a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach that will promote sustainability, eradicate poverty and enhance well-being and happiness.”
In a recent interview with the UN News Centre, Bhutan’s Prime Minister, Jigme Thinley, said that GNH is a development paradigm that has guided Bhutan’s development for several decades and that he hoped Monday’s meeting would result in recommendations which governments can act on.
“I hope that by 2015 the international community will have adopted a sustainability-based economic paradigm, committed to promoting true human well-being and happiness, and ensuring at the same time, the survival of all species with which we share this planet,” he said.
3rd April 2012 - By Haider Rizvi, IPS News
Which is more important in human life: money or happiness? Can money buy happiness? According to the tiny Himalayan nation of Bhutan, the time has come for the world to pay closer attention to this age-old question.
"We are starting a global movement on this issue," Jigme Thinley, the prime minister of Bhutan, told IPS after a high-level meeting on "Happiness and Well-being: Defining a New Economic Paradigm" held at United Nations (U.N.) headquarters in New York on Monday.
Thinley said he wants the international community to realise that a paradigm shift in addressing the issue of sustainability in both the environment and global development is urgently needed.
The prime minister explained that in his country, "gross national happiness" is a development paradigm that has guided its development for several decades. He said hoped the world community would embrace that model.
The phrase "gross national happiness" was first coined in 1971 by the fourth king of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who declared, "Gross national happiness (GNH) is more important than gross domestic product."
That concept implies that sustainable development should not depend solely on economic aspects of wellbeing as it addresses the notion of progress.
Since then, the idea of GNH has influenced Bhutan's economic and social policy and also captured the imagination of others far beyond its borders. According to Bhutanese officials, their country has created a system of measurement that would not only be useful for policymaking but would also create policy incentives for the government, non-governmental organisations and businesses to increase GNH.
The GNH index incorporates traditional areas of socio-economic concern, such as living standards, health and education, as well as less traditional aspects of culture and psychological wellbeing.
"It is a holistic reflection of the general wellbeing of the Bhutanese population rather than a subjective psychological ranking of 'happiness' alone," said Thinley.
Bhutan has developed nine domains – psychological wellbeing, health, education, time use, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience, and living standards – that help measure GNH.
So what kind of results does the GNH index give?
According to the 2010 GNH index, 41 percent of Bhutanese qualified as "happy". The remaining 59 percent ranged from "narrowly happy" to "unhappy", with 47.8 of the totally population characterised as "narrowly happy". Happy people have sufficiency in six out of the nine domains.
"Deeply happy" people – about eight percent – enjoyed sufficiency in seven or more of the nine domains, officials said.
A measure of gross national happiness might be presumed to comprise a single psychological question on happiness such as, "Taking all things together, would you say you are: very happy, rather happy, not very happy, or not at all happy?"
Bhutanese officials debunked this myth, however. "The objectives of Bhutan, and the Buddhist understandings of happiness, are much broader than those that are referred to as 'happiness' in the Western literature," they said in a press note.
In 2011, the U.N. unanimously adopted a General Assembly resolution, introduced by Bhutan with support from 68 member states, calling for a "holistic approach to development" aimed at promoting sustainable happiness and wellbeing.
This week, the high-level meeting on "Happiness and Wellbeing" brought together world leaders, development experts and civil society representatives to develop a new economic paradigm based on sustainability and wellbeing.
"It's imperative that we build a new, creative guiding vision for sustainability and our future," said Nasir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, president of the General Assembly. "That will bring a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said gross domestic product (GDP) has long been "a yard stick by which economies and politicians have been measured. Yet it fails to take into account the social and environmental costs of so-called progress."
Gross national product, or GNP, is often contrasted with Gross Domestic Product (GDP). While GNP measures the output generated by a country's enterprises (whether physically located domestically or abroad) GDP measures the total output produced within a country's borders - whether produced by that country's own firms or not, according to the government of Bhutan.
When a country's capital or labour resources are employed outside its borders, or when a foreign firm is operating in its territory, GDP and GNP can produce different amounts of total output. In 2009, for instance, the United States estimated its GDP at 14.119 trillion dollars, and its GNP at 14.265 trillion.
Reflecting on the fact that the Himalayan kingdom introduced the new ways of looking at national prosperity, Vandana Shiva, a leading human rights and environmental activist from India, told IPS, "It's an important event. It cannot be ignored."
Her compatriot Asghar Ali Engineer added, "What happiness we are talking about here? If we are talking about happiness of all human beings, we must change this (global) economic system."
So long as patterns of consumption continue, he said, "I don't think that millions of people around the world will be happy."
"We should not be deprived of happiness. We have oceans of tears in this world. This model of development is not sustainable," added Alexander Likhotal from Russia.
The chairperson of the meeting on happiness, Helen Clark, former prime minister of New Zealand, urged the U.N. to provide a platform for success stories about how to measure global advancement in sustainable development.
The prime minister of Bhutan told IPS that he attend a U.N. summit on sustainable development, commonly called the Rio+20 summit, in Rio de Janeiro in June. There, he said, he would urge policymakers to consider Bhutan's idea about happiness.
"That will be a historic moment," he told IPS. "I will make a request to the Secretariat to adopt a holistic approach towards development. I hope the U.N. will adopt this new paradigm."
1st April 2012 - By Stewart M. Patrick, Council on Foreign Relations
At first glance, this Monday’s high-level event in the UN General Assembly would appear to confirm the worst suspicions of UN skeptics. Given all the crises engulfing the globe, what geniuses in New York decided to have the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan host a daylong special session on “Happiness.” What the heck is going on in Turtle Bay?
More than meets the eye, in fact. One of the hottest fields in development economics has been, believe it or not, happiness research. And it turns out that the government in Thimpu may have something wise to say on the subject.
In recent years, a small but influential group of economists has concluded that traditional measurements of national progress, typically couched in terms of per capita Gross National Product (GNP), don’t actually tell us much about the wellbeing of citizens. This is partly a critique of modernization theory, which suggests that human welfare advances in lockstep with material enrichment. In fact, as pioneering researchers like Carol Graham of the Brookings Institution and the University of Maryland have shown, there’s little correlation between national income and contentment. Some of the highest levels of happiness have been recorded in low-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa, for example.
This comes as no news to the Bhutanese. Although one of the poorest countries in the world, with a per capita income the World Bank estimates at $670, Bhutan is also, according toBusiness Week, the happiest country in Asia and the eighth happiest in the world. Some forty years ago, the grandfather of the current constitutional monarch, King Jigme Khesar Namgyel, began popularizing the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH) to replace GNP as a gauge of national progress. Improbably, the concept has taken off.
Over the past decade, the 800,000-person kingdom has become a Mecca—or rather Shangri-la—for Western policymakers and development experts seeking enlightenment on the secrets of national happiness in an age of globalization. Amartya Sen and Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel laureates both, are converts. So too is Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and tireless campaigner for the Millennium Development Goals. On August 10-12 of last year, Sachs traveled to Thimpu to co-host with Prime Minister Jigme Thinley the Bhutan Conference on Happiness and Economic Development.
Two weeks later, Bhutan hit the big-time, when the UN General Assembly passedResolution 65/309 (PDF) titled, “Happiness: Towards a Holistic Approach to Development.” Endorsing the monarchy’s basic point, the resolution conceded: “the gross domestic product indicator by nature was not designed to and does not adequately reflect the happiness and well-being in a country.” More pointedly, it implied that public policies in many countries have encouraged “unsustainable patterns of production and consumption,” at the expense of “a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes sustainable development, poverty eradication, happiness and well-being of peoples.”
Monday’s high-Level meeting on “Wellbeing and Happiness: Defining a New Economic Paradigm” raises the GNH concept to new heights. Prince Charles will address the event with a pre-recorded message, and both Sachs and Stiglitz will speak, alongside national and international dignitaries, including Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
The conversation will likely recapitulate themes from last year’s conference, which called on governments to integrate a “happiness agenda” into public policy. Some proposed stepsseem sensible, such as reducing extreme suffering and deprivation, focusing on education, empowering local communities, protecting ecological systems, and investing in mental health. But other proposals could prove more controversial, for instance building “awareness and avoidance of pure status goods,” to say nothing of “controlling the media in a way that doesn’t limit freedom but restrains the creation of artificial cravings.” Such aspirations could lend themselves to caricature, as blatant assaults on the free market by misguided social engineers seeking to escape modernity.
The champions of GNH have tried to inoculate themselves from this critique. “The happiness agenda should not be considered anti-technological or anti-material,” reads the conferencesummary from last August. “There is no going back to a simpler life, for a basic arithmetic reason. We are now seven billion people with a tremendous difficulty of provision, meeting the needs of people, being able to operate complex societies. Any attempt to turn back technology would lead to devastation.”
The Tea Party, in other words can breathe easy. The Buddhists of Bhutan have no designs on the capitalist system, or the rest of our freedoms. In fact, the Land of the Thunder Dragon may have more in common with the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave than you might imagine. After all, they share the fundamental aspiration enunciated in America’s founding document: the pursuit of happiness.
28th March 2012 - By Timothy W. Ryback, New York Times
Next Monday, the United Nations will implement Resolution 65/309, adopted unanimously by the General Assembly in July 2011, placing “happiness” on the global agenda.
“Conscious that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal” and “recognizing that the gross domestic product [...] does not adequately reflect the happiness and well-being of people,” Resolution 65/309 empowers the Kingdom of Bhutan to convene a high-level meeting on happiness as part of next week’s 66th session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
An impressive array of luminaries will be speaking for this remote Himalayan kingdom. His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales will open the meeting via a prerecorded video missive. The Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz will speak on “happiness indicators,” as will the economist Jeffrey Sachs. The Bhutanese prime minister will represent King Jigme Khesar Namgyel, the reigning Dragon King of the Bhutanese House of Wangchuck. (The kingdom became a constitutional monarchy in 2007.)
For the 32-year-old Dragon King — Bhutan means “land of dragons” in the local Dzongkha language — U.N. Resolution 65/309 represents a global public relations triumph and the realization of a hereditary ambition, initiated by his grandfather 40 years ago, to establish Gross National Happiness (G.N.H.) as an alternate model to Gross National Product (G.N.P.) as a measure of national progress.
“A family should have a good house, have sufficient land if one is a farmer, and have a modest level of labor-saving devices to save precious time used up by excessive physical work,” explains Karma Ura, a leading public intellectual and artist who serves both as adviser to the king at home and as a G.N.H. ambassador abroad.
He has designed the country’s bank notes, denominated in the local currency known as ngultrum or nu, which is tied to the Indian rupee. He has promoted Gross National Happiness at the European Commission in Brussels and will do so again on Monday at the United Nations in New York.
For his services, Karma Ura received a knighthood from the king, which includes the ancient honorific title, dasho, and a sword that Ura bears as proudly as his G.N.H. patriotism. The “true forms of wealth,” he says, are being blessed with a “ravishing environment,” “vibrant health,” “strong communal relationships” and “meaning in life and freedom to free time.”
As a nation, Bhutan makes good on the Dasho Karma Ura formula. Landlocked in the Himalayan highlands between the dual economic juggernauts India and China, the kingdom is among the poorest and least developed countries in the world.
With a population under 800,000, the average income is about $110 per month. Most Bhutanese do not earn enough money to pay taxes, which are only levied on annual incomes in excess of 100,000 ngultrum, or about $2,000. Despite these limitations, Business Week has ranked Bhutan the “happiest” nation in Asia and the eighth happiest in the world.
“The Bhutanese have combined Buddhist spirituality and barefoot economics into a unique model that a lot of other nations can learn from,” observes Jean Timsit, a Paris-based lawyer and artist who provided the funding to publish a handbook on “operationalization of Gross National Happiness,” based on a conference held in Bhutan in 2004. The 750-page tome helped define G.N.H. and leverage it onto the global agenda.
To date, there have also been G.N.H. conferences in Thailand, Canada, the Netherlands and Brazil. According to Timsit, these activities provided the impetus for President Nicolas Sarkozy of France to commission Stiglitz, along with the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and the French economist Jean-Paul Fitoussi, to conduct a study of the “of economic performance and social progress” that included diverse G.N.H. indicators, ranging from walking to reading to the frequency of love making.
“The kind of civilization we build depends on the way we do our accounts quite simply because it changes the value we put on things,” Sarkozy notes in his preface to the report. “And I am not just speaking about market value.”
On Monday, the Bhutanese model for G.N.H. will be showcased on the United Nations agenda in accordance with Resolution 65/309. “The 2nd April High Level Meeting is intended as a landmark step towards adoption of a new global sustainability-based economic paradigm for human happiness and well-being of all life forms to replace the current dysfunctional system that is based on the unsustainable premise of limitless growth on a finite planet,” the Bhutan government Web site asserts.
With the current international crises over Syria and Iran, not to mention ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan, Darfur and the Democratic Republic of Congo, to name but a few, the Bhutanese agenda may not attract as much attention as it may deserve.
“I believe that while Gross National Happiness is inherently Bhutanese, its ideas may have a positive relevance to any nation, peoples or communities — wherever they may be,” King Jigme Khesar Namgyel observed in the preface to the G.N.H. handbook back in 2004, while he was still crown prince.
While Americans may well stake their own nationalist claim to having pioneered the notion of “happiness” as a “self-evident truth” and “inalienable right,” dating back to Thomas Jefferson’s 1776 Declaration of Independence, the Dragon King puts a distinctly Bhutanese point on the matter.
“There cannot be enduring peace, prosperity, equality and brotherhood in this world if our aims are so separate and divergent,” he says, “if we do not accept that in the end we are people, all alike, sharing the earth among ourselves and also with other sentient beings, all of whom have an equal role and stake in the state of this planet and its players.” The Dragon King has spoken. Perhaps it is time for the world to listen.
Timothy W. Ryback is deputy secretary general of the Académie Diplomatique Internationale in Paris.
In preparation for the 2nd April meeting, the Royal Government of Bhutan has consulted with the expert team of economists and scholars that was commissioned by the United Nations Division for Sustainable Development (UNDESA) to draft a long-term reference framework for a sustainable economy in preparation for Rio + 20.
These consultations produced the following statement of suggested meeting outcomes that has been circulated to participants to guide and inform the 2nd April deliberations. In the spirit of shared information and collaboration, this draft outcome statement is also reflected in the expert report to UNDESA titled A Sustainable and Desirable Economy-in-Society-in-Nature. The actual outcome of the 2nd April meeting will be determined by the deliberations that day.
Having gathered at the United Nations in New York on 2nd April, 2012, pursuant to UN General Assembly Resolution 65/309 on “Happiness: towards a holistic approach to development,” we are united in our belief in and pursuit of the following understanding, goals, and actions:
1) A fundamental human goal is the deep abiding happiness that comes from living life in full harmony with the natural world, and with our communities and fellow beings. This is consistent with the goals of the Earth Charter, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and the emerging Sustainable Development Goals.
2) Achieving this vision requires that we recognise our interdependence with nature and with each other. It requires a healthy balance among thriving natural, human, social, cultural, and built assets.i We recognise that these assets depend on the natural world, and that natural capital is generally non-substitutable. Sustainability therefore requires that we live off the interest generated by natural capital without depleting the capital itself.
3) Balancing and investing in all those dimensions of our wealth requires that:
a) We live sustainably within the capacity of our finite planet to provide the resources needed for this and all future generations;
b) These resources are distributed fairly within this generation, between generations, and between humans and other species;
c) We use these resources as efficiently and effectively as possible;
d) We respect and strengthen the cultural, community, health, knowledge, and spiritual foundations of our world to produce sustainable wellbeing, happiness, and harmony among all life forms.
4) We have never had greater global capacity, understanding, material abundance, and opportunities to achieve these objectives. This includes scientific knowledge, communications, technology, resources, productive potential, higher education, and ability to feed everyone on earth. We are also inspired by many successful examples of legislation, initiatives, and best practices at multiple scales on which we can build.
5) However, we are moving in the wrong direction at an increasing rate. For example, global greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow, humanity is using resources much faster than nature can regenerate, biodiversity is diminishing rapidly, global ecosystem services are in decline, inequality is growing, more and greater conflicts and disasters are in the making, and political will is lacking. The United Nations has acknowledged that progress towards the MDGs has stalled.
6) “Business as usual” threatens the survival of humans and other species, and is no longer an option. On a finite planet, excessive consumption by high-income groups leaves less for others, increases social exclusion, and undermines wellbeing and human happiness.
7) Many of these dangerous trends are a result of our current, unsustainable, growth-based economic paradigm, which rests on flawed measures of progress. These measures largely ignore the value of natural and social capital and the distribution of wealth and income. They misleadingly count natural capital depletion and many human and social costs as economic gain. The architects of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) themselves counselled that GDP should never be used as a measure of welfare, as it incorrectly is today. The European Union, OECD, the Sarkozy-Stiglitz Commission, Japan, and many others have therefore recognised the need to find viable alternatives.
8) Unless we change the current economic paradigm, a fundamental cause of the current crises, we will never realise the world we all want. This paradigm, institutionalised at Bretton Woods in 1944, was devised prior to an understanding of (1) finite global resource limits and (2) the emerging science of wellbeing and happiness.
9) To move onto a sustainable and desirable path will require:
10) In order to realise the future we all want, we must build on prior work to develop the new economy in the following areas, including but not limited to:
A) Wellbeing and Happiness
B) Ecological sustainability
C) Fair distribution
D) Efficient use of resources
i These assets, which overlap and interact in complex ways to produce all benefits, are generally defined as follows:
a) Natural capital: The natural environment, its biodiversity, and the ecosystem goods and services they provide. These goods and services are essential to basic needs such as survival, climate regulation, habitat for other species, water supply, food, fibre, fuel, recreation, cultural amenities, and the raw materials required for all economic production.
b) Social and cultural capital: The web of interpersonal connections, social networks, cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, trust, and the institutional arrangements, rules, norms and values that facilitate human interactions and cooperation between people. These contribute to social cohesion, strong, vibrant, and secure communities, and good governance, and help fulfil basic human needs such as participation, affection, and a sense of belonging.
c) Human capital: Human beings and their attributes, including physical and mental health, knowledge, and other capacities that enable people to be productive members of society. This involves the balanced use of time to fulfil basic human needs such as fulfilling employment, spirituality, understanding, skills development, creativity, and freedom.
d) Built capital: Buildings, machinery, transportation infrastructure, and all other human artefacts and services that fulfil basic human needs such as shelter, subsistence, mobility, and communications.
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