[Paleopsych] NYT: Net National Happiness

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Sun Oct 9 00:59:58 UTC 2005

Net National Happiness

    Does the United States strike you as a happy country? July 1776, when
    Thomas Jefferson claimed the pursuit of happiness as a basic human
    right, might have been the last time that happiness was officially
    proposed as a national objective. But in Bhutan - as reported in the
    Science Times on Tuesday - the question of national happiness is still
    up for discussion, thanks to a monarch who insisted, nearly a
    generation ago, that gross national happiness is more important than
    gross national product.

    An economic cynic may argue that a country with a gross national
    product as small as Bhutan's can well afford to worry about its gross
    national happiness, and that the best way to increase G.N.H. is by
    increasing G.N.P. But that is essentially an untested assertion, and
    there is plenty of evidence to suggest that it isn't necessarily true.
    Our sense of happiness is created by many things that are not easily
    measured in purely economic terms, including a sense of community and
    purpose, the amount and content of our leisure and even our sense of
    the environmental and ecological stability of the world around us.

    To talk about gross national happiness may sound purely pie in the
    sky, partly because we have been taught to believe that happiness is
    essentially a personal emotion, not an attribute of a community or a
    country. But thinking of happiness as a quotient of cultural and
    environmental factors might help us understand the growing disconnect
    between America's prosperity and Americans' sense of well-being.

    Some sociologists worry that the effort to quantify happiness may
    actually impair the pursuit of happiness. But there's another way to
    consider it. The world looks the way it does - as if it is being
    devoured by some grievous species - partly because of narrow economic
    assumptions that govern the behavior of corporations and nations.
    Those assumptions usually exclude, for instance, the costs of
    environmental, social or cultural damage. A clearer understanding of
    what makes humans happy - not merely more eager consumers or more
    productive workers - might help begin to reshape those assumptions in
    a way that has a measurable and meliorating outcome on the lives we
    lead and the world we live in.

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