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The Wizard of Us: Measuring Heart at the North American Gross National Happiness Conference

Can happiness activists turn a concept into a national movement?

Submitted by: Laura Musikanski

Posted: Jun 12, 2014 – 09:00 AM EST

Tags: happiness, gnh, gdp, wealth, jobs, activists, health and wellbeing, vermont, economics, community development


By Laura Musikanski, Executive Director, The Happiness Alliance

In an economy driven purely by growth, consumption, wealth and profit, the bottom 60 percent of Americans hold only 1.7 percent of our nation’s wealth, and 90 percent of us earn half our nation’s annual earning or GDP, while the top 10 percent take home the other portion.

Minimum wages laws of $15 an hour—$2 and change below the living wage for a single parent—are protested by business interests, while brand name fast-food companies and their franchisers make record earnings. Some companies’ earnings are larger than the GDP of countries such as Norway, Hungary and New Zealand.

Today, when a state government votes to require GMO food labeling, it can expect it must protect its right to the democratic process against major corporations.

Have we fallen asleep in the poppy field, forsaken the yellow brick road?

Happiness and Wellbeing: Building a National Movement

One hundred people think so, and think they have the solution. Academics, politicians, activists, spiritual leaders and artists gathered together at the fifth North American Gross National Happiness (GNH) ConferenceHappiness worldcloud titled, Happiness and Wellbeing: Building a National Movement, held in Burlington, Vermont this May.

The conference was inspired by a high level meeting held jointly by the United Nations and the government of Bhutan in 2012, where then-Prime Minister Thinley officially launched the happiness movement.

The focus of this conference was to foster the sharing of resources and tools for a happiness and wellbeing based economy at a grassroots level. The attendees – activists, academics, politicians and business people – are all working in a world where we are able to meet our basic needs and people are eager to participate in the democratic process. Happiness is the commodity we value.

Vermonters in the Vanguard

Vermont is the second state to adopt the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) and the first to conduct a random sampling of the entire state using the Gross National Happiness (GNH) Index. Both are “beyond GDP measures” used by governments, corporations, campuses and communities.

It’s time to move from gross to good,” says John C. Havens, author of Hacking H(app)iness.

But, it’s not always that simple.

The Wizard of Us

In addition to being an author, journalist and consultant, Havens is a former Broadway actor. He wrote a script called "The Wizard of Us" to explain how. Its first and only showing was at the Happiness and Wellbeing Conference.

Havens played the Tin Man. He taught Dorothy important lessons about personal happiness: that practicing gratitude, volunteering and being active in the democratic process brings greater happiness than an ever-increasing pocket book. He also sang and played a mean harmonica to the tune of “If I Only Had A Brain.”

When your outlook is financial, increasing growth seems quite substantial, and only money plays a part.

Economic-ally speaking, sorry but your theory’s leaking, you’ve got to measure heart.

I know at first it sounds deceiving, that money can’t increase wellbeing, but it’s time for a clean start.

Please be open and not churlish, there’s more metrics make you flourish, when you start to measure heart.

Oh I can see just why, you’re struggling to comprehend. But don’t worry now, my data-loving friend.

Here’s where we start, it’s not the end.

So don’t fill yourself with tension, ‘bout these metrics that I mention, like education, health, and art.

Cause the paradigm is changing, economics rearranging, now we get to measure heart.

Ricky Gard Diamond, co-founding editor of Vermont Woman, played the Scarecrow explaining what a healthy economy looks like.

She wrote her own lines:

“We measure how our homes are doing, and people in them, and the babies and old people. Their job is to keep nurses and doctors and teachers working and laughing. We even measure how many grasshoppers get jobs fiddling. Because their music makes us happy… We’ve all got an important part—or flying monkeys will come out of my butt!” (What?!)

She was chased off stage with a roar by Lauren-Glenn Davitian, Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy, who played the Lion. Davitian wrote her own song, sung to the tune of “If I Were Queen.”

“My regal reports would make news, have power, make change, not chintz…” the lyrics explaining how to foster about community wellbeing with happiness metrics. She pounced off the stage and Good Witch Glinda whirled on.

Seven Levels of Interaction for Happiness

Played by Kathleen Paterson, co-director of the Early Childhood Data Reporting System Project, Good Witch Glinda is creating a data portalSeven Levels GNH that includes the GNH Index results for Vermont constructed to help policy makers make better decisions. She taught Dorothy about Joanna Weibe’s logic model for happiness metrics. Dorothy learned:

Data analyzed yields information

Information leads to knowledge

Knowledge helps us understand

Understanding points to wisdom

Wisdom leads to vision

Shared vision leads to collective action

Collective action turns to collective impact

After her lessons Dorothy declared:

“I think I’m ready now! I think I understand how to make a difference by measuring happiness and wellbeing data and using it to increase wellbeing for every being...”

Glinda topped the lesson off with more wise words:

“Home is knowing. Knowing your mind, knowing your heart, knowing your courage.”

Subjective Indicators as Important as Objective Metrics

The play ended with a speech by Professor Jane Kolodinsky, Chair of the Community Development and Applied Economics Department at University of Vermont, playing the “Wizard of Us.” She explained why economic metrics do not give adequate information for policy makers guiding our society and economy.

Economic metrics tell us Delaware scores an 8 while Oregon is a low 37. By social metrics, Oregon rises to 12 in the nation, while Delaware bottoms out at 41. These are objective metrics: unemployment, poverty and income for the economy, infant mortality, education and crime for society.

Beyond GDP states graph

They do not encompass subjective indicators, which tell us how people actually perceive themselves to be doing.

If we used the two in combination, then we would have really good data for understanding whether and why people feel they are better off or suffering within the conditions of their state. From the two we would gather important information about what motivates behaviors like moving to another state or staying put, changing employment, voting or volunteering.

Rating Happiness

The performance over, we all looked at the GNH Index results for the state of Vermont, gathered from a random sample.

Attendees were asked to write, draw or doodle their ideas about what matters most to their wellbeing and that of others, which were gathered into one document.

Some drew pictures of community gardens, free-share stations, pop-up parks. One even drew a picture of a cookie.

Some wrote comprehensive plans along the domains of happiness calling on a reversal of the disappearing middle class, environmental clean up and more programs to address drug use by youth.

Counting What We Care About

I played Dorothy and after the cast left the stage, told a few stories about how academics, politicians, students and business people are using the GNH index to further the conversation about what really matters.

We count what we care about. In a measurement driven world, we need a better measure to usher in a new economic paradigm.

Metrics like the GPI and GNH index are being used at a grassroots level across the U.S. The activists, academics, politicians and business people who came to the conference already know that ‘home is knowing your mind and heart.’ They know that if we want to see a fair economy, healthy environment and happy society, we have to take grassroots action.

I concluded the session with an invitation to use the GNH Index as a tool in one’s community, company, campus or city to further the happiness movement. Are you next?

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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