SUZUKI: Let’s all resolve to make it a real happy new year

Happiness quotient an important measure of a society's success

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if world leaders resolved to look at life in a different light this New Year?

They could follow the example of Bhutan. In 1971, the small country, nestled in the Himalayas between China and India, rejected the idea of gross domestic product as the measure of progress. Instead, leaders focused on gross national happiness.

The idea is gaining traction and I’m humbled and pleased to be involved with a global initiative to promote it. World leaders took the concept seriously enough to hold a United Nations Conference on Happiness in April 2012, and Bhutan was recognized for its environmental leadership at the recent UN climate summit in Doha, Qatar.

Life isn’t perfect in Bhutan. It’s a poor country where most homes don’t have electricity. Crime is increasing and climate change is making life difficult for farmers, who provide much of the landlocked country’s food.

Still, according to the Guardian, life expectancy in Bhutan has doubled over the past 20 years, almost all children now go to primary school and the country has been improving its infrastructure.

Bhutan has also enshrined environmental protection and intergenerational equity in its constitution.

David R. Boyd’s book, The Right to a Healthy Environment: Revitalizing Canada’s Constitution, offers a wonderful analysis of where the world’s nations now stand on the concept, as well as strong arguments for why Canada should join the more than 140 nations with environmental protection in their constitutions.

Caring for the environment can help achieve gross national happiness in many ways – by giving our children a more secure future, improving human health, ensuring resources are available to meet the needs of citizens, offering recreational and spiritual connections with nature and giving people a sense of pride and respect for the natural systems that keep us alive and healthy.

There’s more to happiness than just having a clean environment – and Bhutan has yet to get there. According to research for the UN Conference on Happiness, “The happiest countries in the world are all in Northern Europe (Denmark, Norway, Finland, Netherlands).” Although these countries are wealthy, the study points out that money isn’t the only factor, as happiness is decreasing in countries like the U.S. “Political freedom, strong social networks and an absence of corruption are together more important than income in explaining well-being differences between the top and bottom countries,” the researchers write. “At the individual level, good mental and physical health, someone to count on, job security and stable families are crucial.” Note that the happiest countries all have healthy economies and robust social programs.

We can also look at how various countries responded to the recent economic crisis. Those that bailed out banks and reduced social spending are facing the same kinds of problems as before. Iceland approached its massive financial meltdown in a way that was pretty much the opposite of that taken by the U.S. and Europe, refusing to rescue its banks and increasing social spending, among other measures.

Iceland still has problems, but it has recovered faster than other nations and its social safety net remains strong. Inequality has been reduced, and the crisis spurred citizens to propose and develop a new constitution, which is being considered by parliament.

There’s an old saw that says the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. In the case of leaders who focus almost entirely on economic growth and corporate interests, it’s a recipe for disaster.

As George Monbiot recently wrote in the U.K.’s Guardian, “In return for 150 years of explosive consumption, much of which does nothing to advance human welfare, we are atomising the natural world and the human systems that depend on it.”

As we celebrate a season of sharing, our leaders could brighten our lives by considering what really makes our societies strong, healthy and happy.

Just Posted

Victoria Grizzlies’ goalie will honour friend in all he does

Kurtis Chapman lost his best friend earlier this month

Saanich teen helps save three people from the Gorge

53-year-old male who was submerged is expected to recover

Large fire destroys home on McClure Street in Victoria

Fire crews dispatched to the 1100-block shortly before noon Monday

Spencer Middle School enjoys jumps in sports enrolment numbers

Program gives students a sense of belonging, school pride

Ottawa proposes restricted pot labels, packages

Packaging will include red stop sign with marijuana leaf and ‘THC’

Comox Valley Valley lotto ticket worth $2 million

Someone who purchased a lottery ticket in the Comox Valley was chanelling… Continue reading

Women’s Expo seeks to empower women this weekend

Victoria Women’s Expo set for Saturday and Sunday at Pearkes Recreation Centre

Pro-Trump protest sign with F-word is OK, court rules

Judges say Ontario man can protest publicly, even using vulgar language

VIDEO: Police officer looking for distracted drivers gets hit by truck

Road safety investigator clipped by trailer while patrolling busy intersection

YVR wants you to help name three new puppies

Say hello to the Vancouver Airport’s new assistance pups

Man dies in crash on Island Highway

Man thrown from his vehicle, alcohol believed to be a factor in accident near Parksville

Suspect who attacked autistic man in Ontario could be from B.C.’s south coast: police

29-year-old man was sent to hospital with serious injuries

Privacy watchdog to explore Facebook leak

Canadian expert says his analytics company helped Trump campaign capitalize on private Facebook info

Most Read