NASSAU, The Bahamas, Monday May 27, 2019 – International movements focused on policy reform are promoting a shift from partisan economic indicators to account for and to prioritize improving national well-being and happiness.
Research has also proven that increasing Gross Domestic Product (GDP) doesn’t translate into happy citizens, nor does it truly represent a country’s wealth distribution and standard of living.
Established in 1972 by King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the 4th King of Bhutan, Gross National Happiness (GNH) provides a linkage between economic and social policies across nine domains including cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, ecological diversity, education, and living standards.
The 2019 Global Happiness and Wellbeing Policy Report recognizes that when governments and decision-making processes adopt happiness as its policy objective, collaboration across government ministries increases, creating a greater impact beyond surface-level economics. It also provides an opportunity to produce measurable outcomes that can be analyzed by a common cadent, well-being.
A prominent example of its application can be found in Aarhus, Denmark, one of the highest ranked happiest places to live according to the UN’s World Happiness Report.
Through data collection, Denmark was able to relate high crime rates within a community to unhappy citizens—who noted that they were displeased with the government’s lack of action and attention. In an effort to increase social and environmental interactions, the Government renovated the community’s central park to include the expansion of green spaces and opportunities for play. Using the social data collected, adaptations to the physical environment allowed the Government to tackle a much larger social problem (crime) by identifying local-level solutions to the community’s immediate needs. Renovations to the urban design also attracted businesses throughout the area, which was further translated into economic growth at the national level.
Within its ‘happy cities agenda’, the 2019 Global Happiness and Well-being Policy Report calls on “city custodians and managers [to] increase happiness in the city by adopting a data-driven approach towards a socially smart city, and enhancing the themes of designing happy cities.” Acknowledging that there are enablers – internal and external – and design elements that contribute to the establishment of happy cities, identifying achievable activities of timescales – short, medium and long term – can help governments prioritize their economic and social goals.
A common challenge that governments face is policy implementation, due to the lack of political will, financial resources, and limited access to capacity. What communities don’t often see is how policies directly improve their quality of life and, most importantly, their income. Research has shown that, generally, people are less concerned about GDP and more concerned about common social themes such as corruption (trust), varying degrees of abuse and inequalities (connection), and poor infrastructure and high crime rates (safety). Collecting data on these three common social themes (trust, connection, and safety) has proven helpful in identifying achievable actions that can be executed within a respectable time frame.
In 2016, the United Arab Emirates announced the addition of a State Minister of Happiness. Supported by a department, the State Minister launched numerous community-based and private sector programmes that aligned with the Government’s goal to promote a culture of happiness. Similarly, Venezuela and Nigeria have all created government positions and departments to prioritize improving their communities’ social happiness and well-being.
This approach to policy development can be of great benefit to any government system often consumed with finding solutions to complex issues such as energy reform and climate change, which rarely produces tangible and immediate results that can be appreciated by the average person. For people to feel like any government is working on their behalf, they must be able to see or feel changes to either their direct environment or their personal circumstances. It is important to note that these changes shouldn’t come on the brink of an election or with the solicitation of votes.
Today, millennials are acquiring more from politicians and government bodies. Party politricks is no longer an acceptable method of governance; therefore, we must shift our approach to how we evolve as a community and region.
To learn more about how governments can adopt the happiness agenda, check-out the Global Happiness and Well-being Report which also provides ‘how to’ tips for governments.
Kendria Ferguson is a Sustainability Consultant based in Nassau, The Bahamas. She holds a Masters of Arts in Sustainable Energy from the University of South Florida and is an accredited Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Associate (GA) professional. Her work focuses on sustainable development and climate change adaptation and resilience in Small Island Developing States (SIDS).