When the GDP > Happiness
“The 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.”
― John F. Kennedy
Even President Kennedy could see the writing on the wall when it came to the happiness of the American people. I recently read "The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living" by Meik Wiking, who is also the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen and the publisher of the annual World Happiness Report. While the Scadinavian countries consistently rank in the top 5 slots, and it's easy to see why, I was curious why the U.S. ranked so poorly for having such a high GDP.
Economic growth has been on the rise in the US since the financial downturn of 2008-2009, but the happiness level for Americans has only been getting worse. Actually, the US happiness level is at its lowest level since 2006, dropping to 6.8 on 10-point scale. The US ranks 14 out of 155 nations polled for the report. 7 of the top 10 happiest countries are in Europe, and even our neighbor to the north (Canada) ranked #7.
Why is the U.S. so lousy at being happy when the economy is so good?
According to Jeffrey Sachs, an economist at Columbia University, "The predominant political discourse in the United States is aimed at raising economic growth, with the goal of restoring the American Dream and the happiness that is supposed to accompany it...but the data show conclusively that this is the wrong approach." Additionally, Americans think government corruption is on the rise in the country — up 15% since 2006. Generosity of donations, social support from friends and family, and Americans' sense of personal freedom has also deteriorated, and has pushed the happiness factor measured by Gallup even lower.
It may seem backwards to some, but focusing only on economic growth (as many in Washington are, aiming for a 4% GDP growth rate), would only make the social crisis worse -- it will literally turn to ALL work, NO play, everyone kills themselves and those who don't are wallowing in pity and misery.
The United Sates should seek to raise happiness by addressing issues like inequality, corruption, isolation and distrust. Seems reasonable right? These are issues that lightly exist in developed nations. We need to restore order and the biggest change (I believe) starts with ourselves and in our own communities. When we can all be happy, our country will absolutely thrive.