Happiness measurements are being used around the world.
By Laura Musikanski, Executive Director, The Happiness Alliance
What’s so happy about limits to growth? Nothing but everything.
Scientists, modelers and environmentalists have long been telling stories of doom and gloom. One of the first doomsayers was Donella Meadows. She convened a group to analyze what would happen to our population and our planet if we continued on the trajectories for industrial production, agriculture, waste, population and pollution. This was in the ‘70s. Donella and her crew found that if we change one of those trends, such as a world without waste where everything is reused, recycled, or re-engineered for no-waste, we could save ourselves and the planet. They called their theory “Limits to Growth.”
What happened? The data did inspire some changes. The first Earth Summit was held and conventions like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, commonly known as the Kyoto Protocol, were created. Environmental laws were passed across the globe, and actions like the Montreal Protocol did reverse acid raid and the depletion of the ozone. But it is not enough.
And the data tells a scary story. Scientists at MIT recently gave an update on Limits to Growth forecasts. The numbers tells us that we are headed for a very bad place.
So why didn’t the data change our actions? Why do we keep doing the same thing when we know that doom and gloom is coming?
In the simplest of terms: you get what you measure.
Today Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the primary and prevailing measure governments use, profit the measure for businesses, and personal wealth and income for personal life. What happens when we use economic growth to guide our society, consumption to guide our society, the wealth or income to guide our personal life?
It turns out that the measurements we use have a big impact on our value system. Research by Tim Kasser, the scientists whose work is used in our Gross National Happiness Index in the time-balance section, tells us that the cultural values that emerge from a money-driven society are:
- financial success,
- image – including a bigger house, fancier car, nicer clothing and more youthful appearance, or more stuff and ,
- popularity – higher status, being at the top of the pile in a hierarchical system.
And most importantly, the values of caring for others and nature, giving to others, and compassion (taking action where you see others or yourself hurting) are diametrically opposed to the values that emerge from a economic growth and consumption based system. As we focus more on GDP, wealth and profit, we value community, caring and compassion less.
It really is true that what you measure, you get.
This means there is a simple solution: if you want to change outcomes, change your measurement. And that is where happiness comes in.
Happiness measurements are being used around the world, in England, Bhutan, Canada, China and the US. Governments and grassroots activists alike are experimenting to transform our society by using a happiness and “Beyond GDP” measurements. In the US, the mayors and councilmember in Somerville, MA, Seattle, WA, Eau Claire, WI and now Santa Monica, CA are experimenting with happiness and wellbeing metrics. The US Census Bureau has even begun exploring how to measure wellbeing. Over 37,000 people have taken the Happiness Alliance’s Gross National Happiness Index, and over 100 grassroots activists across the US are using happiness metrics to transform our value system from one based on greed to giving, grasping to contentment, and craving to caring.
And yet these efforts are small scale, and unless happiness or “beyond GDP” metrics are adopted on a much vaster scale, our continued growth in industrial production, agriculture, waste, population and pollution will lead us into a crisis. What then?
Then we live in a resource constrained world. We will reach a place where there is not enough of the resources we depend upon to take care of our needs. We will be in dire need of a new way of meeting our needs. And this is where happiness, wellbeing, beyond GDP and sustainability metrics will guide us in finding ways to meet needs of people and the planet.
Imagine a scenario in which you and your loved ones do not have enough food to eat or clean water to drink, cook, clean or do your chores. What do you do? In a society that highly values financial success, image and popularity, you are likely to compete, perhaps to fight. In a society that highly values community, relationships and nature, you work with your neighbors, family and friends to find ways to meet those needs together. That is why happiness measurements have everything to do with limits to growth.