As I scurry through my brain trying to find the aptest way to launch the Happiness Initiative at our beloved University of Michigan, the mysterious forces of the universe conspired to present me with this:
“At present we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it gross domestic product. We can just as easily have an economy that is based on healing the future instead of stealing it. We can either create assets for the future or take the assets of the future. One is called restoration and the other exploitation. And whenever we exploit the earth we exploit people and cause untold suffering. Working for the earth is not a way to get rich, it is a way to be rich.” — Paul Hawken, University of Portland 2009 Commencement Address
To me, this eloquently sums up why I care. Our focus on GDP has led to a seemingly bleak future. Pardon my generalization here – the society sometimes just seems so focused on wealth creation and profit maximization that it leaves me wondering, “Are we all here just to make as much money as we can?”
Yet, at the same time, in casual conversations with my friends, it is the meaningful relationships and the pursuit of what they truly care about that keep us going. Money’s nice. We all need money to survive nowadays. But shouldn’t there be an ‘enough’? Indeed, some studies have shown that an increase in income leads to an increase in happiness, but it plateaus off. As GDP continues to increase (over time), our well-being level in the US has remained largely constant.
So why then do we seem so focused on getting rich? Can’t we just be rich instead of get rich? Is there a way to restore and not exploit? Is there a way to create assets for both the present and the future?
I believe we can right our ship. I believe we can change. One of the most important changes necessary, I believe, is a new way to measure what is important in life – happiness. So much emphasis has been placed on the GDP as the country’s measure of ‘progress.’ But what is progress, really? GDP tells us that we’re doing pretty well, but out of 150 countries, we rank 69th in sadness, 75th in anger, 89th in worries and 145th in stress. In fact, the five countries below us in stress level are those in active wars. Huh. A wake-up call perhaps.
The Happiness Initiative proposes a shift away from using GDP as the primary measure of progress, because it simply is no longer sufficient. Instead, we hope to complement GDP with a more important set of happiness indicators that measure our well-being in ten different domains. Please take a look at the About page if you haven’t already done so.
If you believe that happiness is an unalienable right,
If you believe that GDP, wealth and success aren’t all that life has to offer,
If you believe that a society based on well-being is a healthier society than one based on wealth,
If you believe happiness is the key to life,
Or if you just have some time to kill and want to take a 15-minute survey,
then join us. Join the revolution. It starts now.