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Happiness

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

What makes people happy and why it matters for development
The Guardian
Happiness economics is a new field that strives to find out what really makes people happy based on surveys asking citizens: "How satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days?" or "How happy are you?". Rather than letting experts define what makes for the good life from an armchair perspective, happiness economics allows us to identify the factors that matter for people's wellbeing as they themselves experience it.  When the original millenium development goals (MDGs) were formulated, happiness economics barely existed. Before 2000, less than five scientific articles a year dealt with "subjective wellbeing", academic speak for happiness and life satisfaction. Over the course of the past decade, though, their number has risen enormously. A World Happiness Report launched last year at the United Nations summarises the evidence to date.

The problem with data journalism
Quartz
The recent boom in “data-driven” journalism projects is exciting. It can elevate our knowledge, enliven statistics, and make us all more numerate.  But I worry that data give commentary a false sense of authority since data analysis is inherently prone to bias. The author’s priors, what he believes or wants to be true before looking at the data, often taint results that might appear pure and scientific. Even data-backed journalism is opinion journalism. So as we embark on this new wave of journalism, we should be aware of what we are getting and what we should trust.  Economics blogger James Schneider recently opined on how journalists highlight research, even if it’s not credible, that confirms their argument and ignores work that undermines it.

Poor but happy?

Tom Bundervoet's picture

A common belief in rich countries is that people in Africa are poor but happy. This image is time and again confirmed by popular reality shows on Western television, in which the rich-and-famous visit little-known tribes in the most remote villages of rural Africa, only to concede, in front of a dozen cameras, that despite all their hardship, the people they visited really seemed happier than the average burnt-out desk-warrior in their home countries.

Are the poor in Africa really happier? In recent years economists started focusing on happiness and its measurement, a field long considered too trivial to pay much attention to. Recent research on the topic gives conflicting, and sometimes surprising, results. In 2012, an Ipsos poll measuring the degree of happiness in 24 countries found that self-reported levels of happiness were higher in poor and middle-income countries than in rich ones, seemingly confirming popular beliefs.  In contrast, the first World Happiness Report, also published in 2012, finds that the rich countries in Scandinavia are the happiest on earth, while four poor Sub-Saharan African countries are at the bottom of the list. The Gross National Happiness (GNH) index, pioneered by the Kingdom of Bhutan, comes up with a number of surprises of its own: the GNH is highest among the young and the unemployed (and also-perhaps less surprising-among the unmarried), which seems at odds with today’s television images of the streets of Madrid and Athens.

Gross Domestic Product Not Sole Indicator of Progress

Joe Qian's picture

What is Happiness? Many of us equate it with money. However, since 1972, the kingdom of Bhutan under the leadership of its former King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck has measured its developmental success not solely through the economic lens of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) but also through a more complete approach known as Gross National Happiness (GNH). Its laurels were based upon the original four pillars of sustainable development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and good governance.

These indicators have become increasingly important over the last three decades as it became apparent that blindly pursuing economic expansion has created growing pains in a number of countries. GNH has appeared to be very successful in Bhutan, a nation the size of Switzerland with a population of around 700,000. With initiatives such as maintaining at least 60% (currently 72%) of the land for forests and conservation, while maintaining 165 indigenous mammal species such as the rare snow leopard, Bhutan also has a fast growing economy.

Government spending on health and education is the highest in the region at 18% and Bhutan boasts a GDP growth rate of 21.4% and a per capita income level that is almost twice as much as much as India’s, although it was much poorer as recently as the 1980’s. Independent sources also seem to echo these sentiments as Business Week magazine rated Bhutan the world’s 8th happiest country.