A Happiness Index
Through out the entire course of human history, there has been consistent reference to happiness. Many philosophers have basically come to the conclusion that the fundamental goal of a human life is to be happy, to find and share happiness. This thread exists from the earliest writing to the present day Dalai Lama. Perhaps the most succinct advice came from the great 20th century spiritual teacher Meher Baba who said â€œDonâ€™t worry, be happy!â€ Of course, twenty years after Babaâ€™s death, Bobby McFerrin recorded a wonderful song in honor of this simple reduced prescription for how to lead oneâ€™s life.
The quest for happiness, the definition of happiness, the enjoyment of happiness, the meaning of happiness is a through line of cultures all around the world. In just the last two years there have been several best selling books published on the subject, and a number of magazine cover articles. Happiness as a subject is more popular than ever. It seems pretty obvious that people want more than they have. Type the word â€œhappinessâ€ into Amazon.com and the response is that there are 214,554 titles (as of today). So people are on the hunt for happiness.
It has always struck me as odd that current cultures and governments do not focus on happiness. If happiness is what we all want in our lives, if being happy is the meaning of life, if politicians want the voters to be happy, then why isnâ€™t there a national happiness index? Sure there are lots of polls and research done on the mood of the consumer. Sure there is a lot of correlative data about people being happier in good economic times rather than in bad economic times. All of this however is mostly limited to economic considerations. True, that is a part of happiness for most people, but to equate happiness solely to economics seems incredibly narrow.
Think about the national indexes that are so closely monitored in the United States. The GDP (Gross Domestic Product), the GNP (Gross National Product), the CPI (Consumer Price Index), economic indexes all. What are the indexes that get reported every night on the news? The Dow Jones Industrial Average, the NASDAQ, and the S&P 500, all measurements of equity pricing. These are diligently reported every day, usually with value words attached: it was a â€œgoodâ€ day on Wall Streetâ€ or even â€˜it was not a happy day on Wall Streetâ€. Growing up in this type of culture, it is no surprise that so many people conclude that having money is the key to happiness.
Where is the NHI (National Happiness Index)? Is happiness in the United States up or down this month? How is the NHI trending as we move into an election year? If the goal of humanity is to be happy, then why donâ€™t we have governments that set policy toward the goal of an ever rising NHI? Well the first obvious reason is that we as a people, and certainly the politicians, couldnâ€™t begin to construct a penetratingly accurate index. That is exactly the point. If the national dialog was focused on what should go into the NHI, wouldnâ€™t that be a healthy discourse that might lead somewhere positive?
We could make some assumptions here about the NHI. If it is up, then crime, war, recession, congestion, pollution and bad weather is down. If it is down, then politicians are at risk. Politicians would be focused on an ever increasing NHI. Sounds like a plan to consider.
As a futurist, I am always looking into the future and trying to see the way it is going, the way it might go, and the possibilities that will become probabilities. I cannot think of a reason why people, cultures, governments should not start to think about a NHI and move toward that being a barometer of a society, of government, of leadership. I am quite serious. I have thought about this off and on for years.
Why am I writing about this now? As a resident futurist, I have written for a great web site that this week is having Happiness Week. The writings there are based upon the work of Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, who teaches Harvard’s most popular class–positive psychology (the science of happiness). The science of happiness, not economics! The link to the site is: http://lifetwo.com/production/node/20070911-happiness-week-day-1-from-happy-to-happier . It is worth a look and a read. Unless of course happiness is not of interest to you.