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June 07, 2004

The Economics of Happiness

One of our greatest disappointments in developing the Cascadia Scorecard was our inability to include a measurement of northwesterners’ own sense of satisfaction with their lives and communities. The cost of gathering such data, and the technical challenges of reliable measurement, proved prohibitive. Someday!

But in recent years, academic research on happiness has exploded, bringing the day closer when it’ll be possible to track Cascadia’s happiness quotient. The implications of doing so would be profound, even revolutionary, according to a group of leading researchers who spoke recently at a Brookings Institution panel in Washington, DC. (Short summary here; full proceedings and papers available here.)

In essence, they argue, as a society, we’ve been scratching in the wrong place. We've been trying to maximize GNP instead of gross national happiness.

A few highlights, to entice you into reading further:

Americans’ inflation-adjusted income is three times that of their grandparents, yet Americans are no more satisfied with their lives now. In fact, young people suffer more stress and depression.
Researchers have now calculated how many extra (or fewer) dollars of income would be required to balance out the happiness effect of such life circumstances as being married, having good (or poor) health, living with aircraft noise, worrying about crime, and fretting about inflation.

Raising cigarette taxes, paradoxically, makes smokers happier. (!)

Becoming unemployment has a near-permanent impact on happiness; people may get a different job, but they don’t tend to recover their prior level of happiness. It leaves a scar of unhappiness.

Researchers have quantified the happiness impacts of a range of activities people engage in: among Texas women, for example, commuting to work is the worst. Having sex is the best. The former boosts GDP; the latter does not.

Posted by Alan Durning | Permalink


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I wanted to pass along information about a speaker coming to Portland to speak about the Economics of Happiness on November 30.

Helena Norberg-Hodge - "the Economics of Happiness"
Nov. 30th at 7 p.m.
First Unitarian Church, Salmon Street Sanctuary, SW 12th and Salmon.
Tickets $10; $6 students.

Helena Norberg-Hodge, founder and board member of the International Forum on Globalization will be speaking about the "Economics of Happiness". Helena is a leading analyst of the impact the global economy has on cultures around the world. She directs the International Society for Ecology and Culture, renowned for its work promoting sustainable alternatives to conventional development on four continents. Author of the inspiring book, Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh, she visits us from her home in England and from her regular stays in Ladakh, India. Her economics of happiness addresses possible changes in policy and local initiatives that can help shift our society on to a path toward sustainability and human well being.

Sponsored by EJAG, 7th Principle and Continuing Spiritual Growth committees of First Unitarian Church; World Steward and Northwest Earth Institute.

Tickets available at the door, at the EJAG table in Fuller Hall (after Sunday services at the church) or by calling the church office at 503-228-6389.

Posted by: Corey Cliffe | Nov 26, 2004 9:41:06 AM