There's a new movement afoot: Gross National Happiness (GNH) - evaluating our society in terms of happiness rather than money. It's similar to the GDP (Gross Domestic Product), which measures the amount of money flowing through the system. The difference is that GDP goes up not only when good things happen but when bad things happen as well. Things like mining disasters or oil spills can put a lot of money into the economy.
Robert Kennedy said it best in 1968: "Too much and too long, 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. And it tells us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans."
So what does Gross National Happiness measure? Happiness research finds that the things that most contribute to satisfaction involve time for family, friends and community. Indeed, social ties are the chief ingredient in happiness. We've forgotten this, and it's why happiness in the United States has been on the decline for the last 30 years.
The problem is that most of us grew up thinking that if we were rich we'd be happy. But the research shows that after a certain point, more money does not contribute to happiness. In fact, it can get in the way because money often becomes more important than relationships. In particular, time becomes money, and there is no financial benefit to just hanging out with friends.
Essentially, we care too much about money. Some companies will seemingly do anything for money: cheat, lay people off, pay low salaries, poison the environment, make money from wars. Look at our mine disaster and the oil-rig explosion: Companies cut costs on safety for the sake of profit.
The central idea of Voluntary Simplicity is to straighten out our thinking out about money. Money will always be a motivator, but it can't be the primary one. We must put people and the planet before profit. One way to get people to think differently about money is to measure true fulfillment instead of just money.
This all started with the little country of Bhutan deciding to measure Gross National Happiness instead of the GDP. And now, cities around the world are starting to get involved. One of the first is Victoria, B.C., and recently a delegation met with the Seattle City Council to begin talks about making Seattle the first American city to use GNH as a measure.
What would be measured? In Bhutan and Victoria they're using 10 indicators: psychological well-being, time use, community vitality, culture, health, education, environmental diversity and resilience, living standard and governance.
As you can see, this is an exciting idea. Imagine how fun it would be to get together and talk with others about what these indicators mean for you and society.
You have a chance to do this at a class at the Phinney Neighborhood Center, Happiness Lessons, to be offered May 18 from 7:30 to 9 p.m.; to register or for more information, call (206) 783-2244.
You can also join a Simplicity Circle on Monday nights from 7:30 to 9 p.m. at St John's United Lutheran Church, at North 55th Street and Phinney Avenue North, across from the Woodland Park Zoo's west entrance.
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