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Manufacturing Happiness
April 24, 2007, 12:05 am
Filed under: Digital Strategy, Get Activist


This map found here.

“Happiness is inward, and not outward; and so, it does not depend on what we have, but on what we are.” So intoned American man of letters Henry Van Dyke. A noble vision of a less materialistic world, some might say — but is it something that can be quantified? The International Development Research Centre have some insight into how the people in the rugged and remote Asian country of Bhutan are busy trying to “operationalize” a notion of true happiness that sounds a lot like Van Dyke’s dream.

In modern times, human prosperity and wellbeing have been measured by blunt economic standards, such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP), that are essentially gauges of economic activity. More often than not, however, these indicators fail to take account of whether that activity is good or bad. Perversely, a rise in crime rates may come across as an economic benefit because it stimulates economic activity: more crime leads to the building of more prisons, the hiring of more police, and so on. By the same dispassionate logic, natural disasters could also be seen as contributing to the economy, for example if they created a repair and reconstruction boom. It all depends on what you choose to count.

The alternative approach draws upon a broader set of social, environmental, and health indicators aimed at more accurately representing the real condition of society.

Measuring wellbeing

In Bhutan, this comprehensive indicator is charmingly known as Gross National Happiness (GNH).

The east Himalayan Buddhist monarchy of approximately 800,000 people, sandwiched between the world’s two most populous countries, has recently ended its long self-imposed isolation. Only in the late 1990s did it admit television and the Internet; now Bhutan is considering applying to join the World Trade Organization (WTO).

One of the world’s least-developed countries, Bhutan is worried about what globalization may bring, and it is determined to protect its unique culture. The country wants to safeguard its social values by entrenching them in terms that the wider world may understand and respect, that is to say, in quantifiable measures. By developing measures of progress that account properly for the country’s social, cultural, and environmental assets as well as its economic development, the country is following through on the 1972 declaration made by His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuck: “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product.”

Much closer (for me) to home is a street campaign that I saw when I was last in Melbourne. I was reminded of it today through a post Australians taking it upon themselves to create a vibrant community on Mack-tastic’s The Viral Garden.


This local government has started a series of Sustainable Community Progress Indicators (SCPI) which compares and prompts the sight of smiles across the city.

I believe that this is an expression of an initiative of VicHealth. Suggestions to “smile at the person next to you” at bus stops, “walk instead” in car parks and “catch up with friends” are among 50 messages that will be shared with the population.
The health promotion organisation will also stencil streets in the cities of Darebin, Melbourne and Bayside in a bid to encourage people to get active and socialise as part of every day life.
Mr Moodie said depression would be the second largest disease by 2020, and one in five children in Australia was now overweight.
“Here’s a fresh approach that will help combat these disturbing figures by encouraging physical activity and connecting with others,” he said.
The gym and playing team sports were not for everyone, but exercise and social interaction could be as simple as walking to the bus stop, he said.

I do love the idea of happiness and friendly interaction being a measure of success and sustainability for a community, a country and (Mack prompted this)-a brand.


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[…] “A Global Projection of Subjective Well-being” Posted on April 30th, 2007 in Interesting […]

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