Is it just me or is happiness starting to get unnecessarily complicated?

Are you as happy as this man?

It feels like every time you turn around someone else has written a book that offers the key to what seems like one of the most confusing and elusive experiences since the dawn of time - being happy.

So what does anyone stand to gain from French President Nicholas Sarkozy’s proposal to bring the happiness phenomenon to public policy making?

Addressing a crowd on the anniversary of the Lehman Brothers collapse at The Sorbonne University in Paris, Sarkozy predicted the start of a “great revolution” - where happiness, not the GNP would be the key indicator for national growth.

But can the state really do a better job of keeping us happy than we can? And should it be that complicated?

First reactions from the public have been mixed and not without a healthy dose of cynicism.

Columnist Armanita Wordsworth cheekily suggested Sarkozy’s proposal is fitting for a man married to Carla Bruni. 

But to be fair, Sarkozy’s plan has been in the works for some time, even before Carla came onto the scene.

It’s been two years since he called on Nobel Peace Prize winners Joseph Stiglitz and Armatya Sen to map out a plan of action.

You can read their recommendations here but the highlights include maintaining strong relationships, caring for the environment and equality in the workplace.

It also mimics a plan that’s been operating in the kingdom of Bhutan since 1972. 

Started by King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, Bhutan’s happiness project was considered the best way to drag the country from its poverty trap. A combination of public education, preserving national traditions and advancing science and general well-being has resulted in a 19-year increase in life expectancy.

But France is far from the poverty line and as Financial Times journalist Ben Hall writes the majority of its citizens enjoy a very high standard of living.

But maybe everything in France is not as rosy as it seems.

A recent BBC report uncovered a disturbing number of suicides since the privatisation of France Telecom earlier this year. World Health Organisation statistics put the rate at 26.4 per cent.

And then there’s the Burqa issue. Back in June the Sarkozy government declared the Islamic dress “not welcome in the territory of the French republic”, sparking huge protest throughout the country.

Surely the right to practice religion is rated pretty highly in a person’s definition of happiness-so where will that fit into the happiness plan?

Some therapists have suggested that happiness is contaigous, while others say it comes down to having a
carefree attitude and if you’re lucky some strong relationships.

I tend to think the best plan for happiness is to make your own. What do you think?

Most commented


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    • Jolanda Challita says:

      07:51am | 18/09/09

      I think that you are most happy when you are being treated fairly and with respect.  Our Government fails miserably in that Department and people learn by example so we are breading a conga line of you know what holes..  Education - Keeping them Honest

    • Liz says:

      08:00am | 18/09/09

      Why knock anyone’s efforts? Surely the more people trying to help the majority become happy is a good thing? Isn’t it?What do you think?

    • Vic says:

      09:32am | 18/09/09

      I think the point is that GDP measures economic growth and not necessarily wellbeing.

      If you get hit by a car it actually contributes to GDP - the ambulance drivers get paid, the hospital gets paid, the car repair people get paid, insurance premiums go up, GDP goes up and you are miserable.

      So how do we measure health and wellbeing if not through other indicators?

      Maybe we can move away from an economy and society that is over consumptive if we think about measuring indicators of wellbeing rather than measuring success by what we have. More money doesnt mean more happiness.

      I applaud Bhutan and Sarkozy for admitting that GDP isnt the best measure of social wellbeing.

    • Tegan says:

      10:02am | 18/09/09

      A plan for happiness is a simplistic way of looking at a much larger and serious problem. We must as a society tackle the ever increasing rate of mental illness and start to account for the social costs of policies.

      Not that far back it seemed irrational to many that we would be able to properly account for the environmental cost of business and public policy. Whilst the system isn’t perfect yet, there is much agreement that we need a way to do so. 

      I think it is a great step forward to be discussing a way to look at the true cost of things; financially, environmentally and from a social wellness perspective.

    • Budz says:

      10:23am | 18/09/09

      I think a major factor stopping people being happy is consumerism and everything that comes along with it. So many people think they need more money to be happy. Politicians keep plugging the line that the cost of living is always going up but in reality we have way more “stuff” now that we have ever. Yet we all feel like we need more “stuff” to keep up with everyone else.

      If we focussed on what makes us truly happy over the long term such as relationships with friends and family, we may stop being obsessed with rat race to obtain more “stuff”.

      To finish off, a great quote from Robert Kennedy regarding this topic. Enjoy smile

      “Gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.” Robert Kennedy

    • stephen says:

      10:56am | 18/09/09

      Happiness is probably too specific. Decency will do, and let personalities do what they will.

      (Some are only happy robbing banks or ‘playing up’ with children)

    • JB says:

      11:00am | 18/09/09

      I reckon happiness comes from fulfillment and balance.
      I’ve never liked to advertise things but Enough by John Naish is decidedly on topic, and well worth a read. Perhaps if we measured what makes us contented and fulfilled we would be ‘happy’, as opposed to always pursuing happiness? As Budz says, and others acknowledge and allude to, the consumerist push to fill our lives with things to make us happy results in economic growth, but at what cost?
      As Tegan comments, the current push to factor in Co2 in the course of operating a business scratches the surface of this issue.

    • David C says:

      01:35pm | 18/09/09

      Please note the following require money
      - education
      - health
      - defence
      - housing
      - welfare
      - police
      - clean energy
      - road
      - national parks

      Next time you have to pay the rent try using a smiile

    • papachango says:

      02:57pm | 18/09/09

      It makes good media headlines, but measuring happiness is not the role of the government, it’s none of their business. Social wellbeing is up to individuals, not governments.

      I agree with the author - we make our own happiness, and the best thing the government can do to contribute towards that is to stay the hell out of our lives. The more freedom we have the happier we are.

    • Kate says:

      03:49pm | 18/09/09

      A Happiness Index is a great idea. In Bhutan when they were looking at economic measures such as increased tourism, they looked at the impact such a proposal would have on the Happiness Index. If you could promote values and behaviours nationally that raised levels of happiness there could well be tanglible economic benefits - less non-clinical depression, police man/woman hours spent on violence and disputes and maybe less cruelty to animals and people. Who knows? It is a nice thought.  Enjoying your Blogging Lucy.

    • Papachango says:

      04:30pm | 18/09/09

      How exactly do you measure a ‘happiness index’? Do you survey lots of people and ask them how they’re feeling? Or do you measure the number of smiles on people’s faces with some sophisticated facial scanning technology on every street corner?

      It sounds nice and caring/sharing, but a government Happiness Index is a ridiculously fluffy bit of BS. It can never be measured accurately, and it can change pretty quickly anyway. Only individuals or their immediate loved ones and frieds can really measure their own happiness.

      That’s not to say happiness isn’t important, it’s one of the most important things in life. But it’s highly private, highly individual and highly intangible.

      I also agree that materialism doesn’t make me happy. But it might make some people happy and good luck to them. It’s all about choices.

    • Ken says:

      08:53pm | 18/09/09

      I’m sorry, but that’s a really poor article. It highlights one tiny aspect of the 300+ page report which it totally fails to put into context (e.g. the point was more to come up with better indicators of well-being than GDP).

      And the article’s title shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what the report is about. It’s not about whether public health care or private health care is better, and (though I haven’t read the fine print) I certainly doubt it vouches for one or the other since that’s not the topic in question!!

      Rather, it suggests that measurements such as quality of health-care coverage and quality of education as well as environmental preservation/degradation should be just as important as average income - and I stress average, since the median income has actually fallen in recent years - when trying to work out whether our society is moving forward or not.

      I agree that measuring happiness is a very subjective affair - hasn’t stopped economists from trying to do it over hundreds of years - but again I don’t think that’s in question here. Happiness is arguably more about subjective appreciation than well-being, more closely tied to objective circumstances. That explains why the French can be very well off, socially and economically speaking, but feel unhappy - perhaps because they don’t feel that they are as well off as 5 years ago or as well off as they thought they should be, even though, compared to 99% of people in the third world, they have nothing to complain about. On the other hand, there are plenty of kids as happy as can be in sub-saharian Africa…

      All this to illustrate one central point - the report is about measurable, objectifiable elements of well-being. And I think we can all agree that there’s more to that than just money.


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