Spanish postgraduate student and NOW volunteer, Jesus Martin offers a brief survey of recent wellbeing policy initiatives in different countries. In a visionary speech in March 1968 Robert F Kennedy said:
We seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our gross national product ... if we should judge America by that - counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. ... Yet 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.
It has taken the world 45 years to recognise the wisdom of these words. Today if a citizen of the world judged the society in which we live in this regard, it would be understandable if they felt that not much has been done from a government perspective on possible alternative measures of progress or on wellbeing policy issues.
However, around the world, there are many community and public policy initiatives focusing on a vision of wellbeing similar to that described by Robert F. Kennedy beginning to develop. Suddenly the Wellbeing agenda is spawning multiple initiatives studies and policy initiatives attempting that start to address this issue.
Our own project, the Network of Wellbeing (NOW) is one of these initiatives. The promotion of a higher level of visibility for the Wellbeing agenda is one of our goals. Our vision builds on the conclusions of another early challenge to the GDP model. In 1972, the Club of Rome’s infamous report “The Limits to Growth” presented some challenging scenarios for global sustainability, based on a system dynamics computer model to simulate the interactions of five global economic subsystems, namely: population, food production, industrial production, pollution, and consumption of non-renewable natural resources. “The limits to growth”, which was commissioned by the Club of Rome contained a new concept of growth: “if we measure progress in an increase of quality of life and not of material turnover, then humanity can grow for a very long time. It would grow in terms of Security, Happiness, Stability and Sustainability.” This report and Kennedy’s vision to date have rarely been seriously considered in the policies of governments.
In this post, I “travel” around the world to briefly survey some governance initiatives (top-down approaches) to Wellbeing policy in different countries, as well as highlighting various pieces of recent news where one can observe that the Wellbeing Agenda is becoming more and more visible in the mass media.
If there is a nation that offers a real reference point that really includes Kennedy’s vision and leads the way for other countries, it is Bhutan. This small country in Asia is known worldwide for its GNH (Gross National Happiness). Two interesting websites links are: Gross National Happiness and GNH Bhutan. For more information, the Royal Government of Bhutan (2012) edited the report “Defining a new economic paradigm". The report of high level meeting on Wellbeing and Happiness”.
Another country, which besides GDP uses an alternative index, is Canada. Its Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) is composed of eight categories. In October 2012 they released the second CIW report, "How are Canadians Really doing?" One of the main insights about the comparison between GDP and CIW is that from 1994 to 2008, GDP went up 31%, but the Canadian Index of Wellbeing only increased 11%.
In France, a French government’ initiative created the Commission on the measurement of economic performance and social progress in 2008. Joseph E. Stiglitz, Amartya Sen and Jean-Paul Fitoussi were the main members of this Commission.
In 2010, the ONS (Office for National Statistic) in UK launched the first phase of the programme to improve understanding of what should be included in measures of the nation’s wellbeing. Since then the ONS has published several Wellbeing publications.
Apart from these government initiatives on Wellbeing, it is interesting to not forget different indices developed by different organizations such as the Human Development Index (UN), the Happy Planet Index (NEF), Well-being Index (Gallup), Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW), etc.
Just recently 20th March 2013 was a historic day for global wellbeing because the United Nations declared it the first ever International Day of Happiness.
In addition the mass media have reported about Wellbeing in different countries offering us indications of a possible paradigm shift in governance about this issue.
USA and China, the two largest economic nations in the world have been focused on Wellbeing. Wen Jinbao, Premier of the People’s Republic of China in a speech to the annual National People’s Congres reported by The Guardian offered the following, “We must make ensuring and improving people’s wellbeing the starting point and goal of all the government’s work, give entire priority to it, and strive to strengthen social development”.
On the other side of the world, in the USA, the wellbeing agenda has been marked by Gallup reports. Local and national newspapers collected the information and ratings of the various US states, cities and professions with respect to their classification in the Gallup Well-being Index. This has resulted in many debates and comments on internet blogs, facebook and twitter about the meaning of wellbeing and about which states, cities and professions really do lead their country in quality of life. Perhaps not surprisingly Hawaii was the leading state for wellbeing, Lincoln for cities and medical physicians led among the American professions in these Wellbeing Indices.
Apart from the two major world economies, other countries also have been reflected in the press recently.
Italy: “First Report on Equitable and Sustainable Well-being (BES). The National Council for Economics and Labour (Cnel) and the Italian National Institute of Statistics (Istat) presented the results of an inter-institutional initiative which places Italy in the forefront of the international panorama for the development of well-being indicators going "beyond GDP".”
Uzbekistan: “The organization of the "Forum of socially responsible citizens of Uzbekistan" held a training seminar dedicated to the participation of socially responsible citizens in the performance of tasks of the State program "Year of wellbeing and prosperity"” according to UZA.
India:The Tata Strategic Management Group published its 2013 edition of Well Being Index (WBI) on March 6th according to IBN live.
Taiwan: The China Post informs that “Cabinet announces plan to launch 'Well-being Index'”.
Australia: “A proposal to measure the wellbeing of every South Australian child is one of the several recommendations contained in a confidential Government proposal obtained by the ABC”
So any observation by a world citizen on how little progress in Wellbeing has occurred since 1968 may now have to conclude that at last this may be beginning to be reversed due to these recent government initiatives on Wellbeing. Such changes have been initiated due to the pressures of individuals and organizations, both in respect to quality of life and to the environment. This paradigm shift, advocated by the vision originating in Bhutan with its Gross National Happiness, should not be judged by the time they have taken to develop. The important thing is that there is now movement, even momentum.
The fact is that the World of Wellbeing is moving in the right direction. From the perspective of NOW, it is proposed that this movement and change should be made as quickly as possible. Internet Technology enables connecting different initiatives, research and best practice to expand the practical knowledge required to deliver Wellbeing. In this way, just like Phileas Fogg on his trip around the World, NOW wants to develop as many possible connections with other wellbeing Initiatives in order to empower people to thrive and flourish. NOW invites you to let us know about wellbeing initiatives where you are.