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NHI – National Happiness Index

  • Jeremy Bentham, the 18th century UK economist said: “Government action should make the most people happiest”

  • Bhutan don’t even bother to measure their GDP, preferring to use GNH – Gross National Happiness – as its measure of national well-being

  • Why?

    • If people are happy, they tend to spend more which enlarges national GDP pies

    • They also work better, take more and bigger risks, become more creative

  • So how happy are people?

  • A Gallup survey claimed the happiest nations in the world were Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Canada, Finland, Netherlands and Sweden, in that order

  • The criteria used were real GDP/ capita, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on, freedom to make life choices, freedom from corruption and generosity

  • Hence, a National Happiness Index is mooted – but how to define happiness?


                        Happiness = Reality – Expectation (iff positive)

  • Happiness is a most desirable but elusive state of mind – it’s the result of various causes which do not include the attainment of cash wealth or material possessions – rich people are some of the most miserable folk on Earth whilst some of the smileyest faces can be found in the slums of Jakarta, Mumbai or Mombasa

  • Happiness doesn’t follow the achievement of aims or getting to the next rung of a career ladder either – contentment may follow but not happiness

  • Happiness just happens, often whilst trying to improve the lives of others and earning their gratitude

  • Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, put it well: “Happiness cannot be pursued – it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself”

  • So any NHI must overcome these definition difficulties first – you can’t just ask people if they’re happy and expect to get sensible, quantifiable answers

  • Currently, most NHIs are a complicated mix of factors which, in total, might make good media headlines but achieve little else – hence they’re not in widespread use – at least, not yet