National Happiness Report Card

The national nonprofit Happiness Initiative just released a copy of the national happiness report card. Here’s the summary:

These are just the basic data. They’re still working on the analysis. Nevertheless, time balance and government look worrisome.

Tell us how you feel about your happiness! Click here to take the survey.

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On Happiness

Watching TED talks on happiness might be my favorite hobby of all time. My favorite one’s by Shawn Achor titled: The happy secret to better work. It’s really funny and relaxing to watch, so it’s well worth watching.


I started thinking actively about happiness after my freshman year. I came to Michigan carrying the typical gene for “success” – both the talent and diligence to get as high a GPA as possible, build an impressive resume, and find the most prestigious internships possible. A year later, at the very same spot, the dream lost its appeal. Life was interspersed with periods of unease, apprehension and emptiness. A good GPA and an impressive resume did not give me meaning. Life was still incomplete. In fact, it wasn’t just incomplete; it was miserable. I was fed up with the one-dimensional approach of continually working for “a bright future.” I just wasn’t happy.

As a society, we’ve been neglecting the conditions of life that make us happy. Look at our country’s main indicator of progress: the GDP. Robert Kennedy once said, “[GDP] measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”

The movement to measure things that make life worthwhile started from an idea that spread. It started in a tiny Himalayan country called Bhutan, whose king said that “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product.” So it began.

Now, the “happiness movement” is growing across the globe. TED videos like the one above help spread the word. But most importantly, people are generally less happy now than they were fifty years ago, and we’re going to do something about it.

Preliminary survey results in Seattle, WA show that persons aged 19-25 are as unhappy as ever. College students are increasingly concerned about our job outlook, financial security, and we never seem to have enough time to do everything we want.

It’s time for change. That’s why I started The Happiness Initiative at the University of Michigan. It is a part of a nationwide initiative to enhance the quality of life and extend the concept of success beyond wealth and academic/career success.

The goal is to create a UM Happiness Report Card, which will summarize our overall results. So WE NEED YOU to be a part of this! Please consider taking the survey. It only takes 12-15 minutes, and at the end, you will get to see your personal results, i.e. how you feel about the different conditions that affect your happiness.

To take the survey, click on the link below.

UM students:
UM faculty & staff:
Even if you’re not currently a student, faculty or staff at UM, you can also take the survey:

Thanks a lot for your help! Feel free to leave a comment on the blog or at the Facebook page:!

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To find happiness, forget about passion?

The Harvard Business Review posted this article last Friday. It calls for us to focus on big problems, and forget passion. While I don’t agree with all of the points she made, it’s a thought-provoking article about how the society has shifted and how we can add value. Enjoy! Please feel free to leave a comment.

[Repost from here]

Several years ago, a friend decided she wanted to follow her passion. She loved the liberal arts and academe. She was a talented graphic designer, a great writer, and was the president of a student club. But the prospect of working a nine-to-five job was never interesting. I can’t blame her. After all, ours is a millennial generation proselytized to pursue our dreams. So she spent seven years getting a PhD, writing an award-winning dissertation in the process. It was a wonderful ride while it lasted, and she was among the happiest people I knew.

Then the recession hit. The value of university endowments crashed. Teaching and research positions were cut. She moved back in with her family, stopped paying off her student loans, and waited two years before getting a minor teaching role in a small research center. Throughout this time, she suffered the anguish of an uncertain future, became socially withdrawn, and felt a sense of betrayal.

It’s a poster tale for our times. Was following her passion worth it?

Like myself, today’s twentysomethings were raised to find our dreams and follow them. But it’s a different world. And as the jobless generation grows up, we realize the grand betrayal of the false idols of passion. This philosophy no longer works for us, or at most, feels incomplete. So what do we do? I propose a different frame of reference: Forget about finding your passion. Instead, focus on finding big problems.

Putting problems at the center of our decision-making changes everything. It’s not about the self anymore. It’s about what you can do and how you can be a valuable contributor. People working on the biggest problems are compensated in the biggest ways. I don’t mean this in a strict financial sense, but in a deeply human sense. For one, it shifts your attention from you to others and the wider world. You stop dwelling. You become less self-absorbed. Ironically, we become happier if weworry less about what makes us happy.

The good thing is that there are a lot of big problems to go by: climate change, sustainability, poverty, education, health care, technology, and urbanization in emerging markets. What big problem serves as your compass? If you’re a young leader and you haven’t articulated this yet, here are some things you can do.

Develop situational awareness. There’s too much focus on knowing the self. Balance this with knowing the world. Stay in touch. Be sensitive to the problems faced by the unfortunate and marginalized. Get out of the office and volunteer. If you’re in school, get out of the classroom. It’s been a long time coming, but business schools are finally instituting changes that put the real world at the center of their programs.

Look into problems that affect you in a very personal way. We’re more likely to be motivated by problems we can relate to on a personal level. In Passion & Purpose, Umaimah Mendhro recounts her story fleeing a war-torn Pakistan with her family and how the experience of dodging bullets to escape helped her summon the wherewithal to found, an initiative that helps create connections across communities in conflict.

Connect with people working on big problems. In a world where problems are by their very nature interdisciplinary, just getting to know people who are passionate about one problem leads to discussions on how other problems can be solved. When Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala helpedreinvent Manila Water to better provide for the Philippines’ capital, he had to deal not only with the typical issues a public utility had to face, but also with problems related to climate change, technology, and community development.

Take time off and travel. Forget about traveling as a tourist. Instead, structure a trip that takes you off the beaten path. Go to an unconventional place. Backpack and get lost. The broader and richer experience pays dividends down the line. Steve Jobs described his time living in India as one of the most enriching and mind-opening phases of his life, and this undoubtedly helped him develop the intuition to solve the big problem of making lives simpler through technology.

We don’t find happiness by looking within. We go outside and immerse in the world. We are called to a higher purpose by the inescapable circumstances that are laid out on our path. It’s our daily struggles that define us and bring out the best in us, and this lays down the foundation to continuously find fulfillment in what we do even when times get tough.

Happiness comes from the intersection of what you love, what you’re good at, and what the world needs. We’ve been told time and again to keep finding the first. Our schools helped developed the second. It’s time we put more thought on the third.

What big problems are you trying to solve?

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A course on finding happiness?

Check out this article about a really cool class on finding happiness at Salem State University:

The special thing about this course is that it seems like it’s talking about happiness in a serious sense, relating to Aristotle’s question of “What is the good life?” and not just urging people to always be happy-go-lucky and naive all the time. Happiness inside the classroom – pretty cool huh!

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Why GDP is Like GPA

Sometimes we will repost articles from other websites because they’re just too good! Here’s one from NPR. We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Are these tomatoes part of GDP? It depends.

Are these tomatoes part of GDP? It depends.

GDP contains multitudes. Everything we manufacture. Every plumber who fixed a sink, every accountant who carried the one and divided by five — all the goods and services we produced.

It was invented by a guy named Simon Kuznets during the the Great Depression, when everybody wanted to know just how bad things were.

Now the number is put out by Steve Landefeld at the government’s Bureau of Economic Analysis.

“It was designed to do exactly what it does today, which is to pull together all the diverse pieces of economic data,” he says. “Some of which are going up, some of which are going down, some of which double count one another — into one comprehensive and consistent picture of what is happening to the economy.”

The latest number: $15.2 trillion per year, give or take. A new record high, even after adjusting for inflation.

But just giving out GDP is like talking about your GPA in high school.
Sure, it’s useful to apply to college. But your GPA paints a limited picture of what kind of student you really are.

Likewise, there are limits to the usefulness of GDP.

For instance, it’s skewed by how well people are the top are doing. So when GDP per person goes up, a lot of us might not feel it.

“The share going to the top 1 percent as we talk about it today has grown,” Landefeld says. “That has made the simple average of GDP per capita less meaningful to the average person. It’s a real number, but it perhaps doesn’t refelct what people are seeing in their personal economic situation.”

Also there’s that list of what goes into GDP, and what doesn’t.

If you buy a tomato, that increases GDP. But if you grow a tomato — if you spend hours watering and weeding — that doesn’t get included.

If you pay a nanny to take care of your kids, that’s GDP. If you stay home to take care of your kids, that’s not GDP.

Environmentalists like to point out that industries can boost GDP by doing damage to the environment. Herman Daly, an economist at the University of Maryland, points to the Gulf oil spill. BP spent billions on clean-up.

“All of the expenditures on cleaning up the oil spill were then added to GDP,” Daly says. “Now that’s asymmetric accounting. You’re not counting the negative, and you’re adding in the positive.”

So even though the loss of oil revenue and shrimp sales were factored into GDP, nothing was subtracted for the oiled pelicans. Nothing was removed for the environmental damage.

Could you factor environmental effects into GDP if you wanted to?

Robert Mendelsohn, an economist at Yale, just put a real dollar figure on air pollution. It wasn’t easy. He included not only things like premature death caused by pollution, but also what value people put on the loss of visibility.

Researchers showed people pictures of the Grand Canyon, with and without smog, and asked how much is it worth to have that pristine view.

Then they add up all the costs. Mendelsohn estimates that if you subtract pollution and global warming costs, GDP could be 2 percent lower than it is now.

I tried out all these criticisms of the GDP on Steve Landefeld. He was polite. He said they do occasionally tweak the way the GDP is calculated. But he said right now, it’s hard enough to measure all the stuff that actually has price tags.

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Happiness. It’s serious.

So we established that we’re going to start a happiness revolution. What in the world is happiness, anyway?

Happiness has often been ridiculed and dismissed as naivety: “Don’t worry. Be happy. Life will be all right.” Ugh. Whatever man.

That’s not what happiness is really about. Happiness is serious, and we believe it’s important. We want happiness to stick.

Happiness is about living life based on who you are. It’s about doing what you love. It’s about surrounding yourself with people that you care about. It’s about finding time to remain mentally and physically healthy. It’s about being realistically optimistic about your life and our world. It’s about balance.

That last one is key. It’s about balance. Our world is both environmentally and socially unsustainable with the way we live now. In fact, Action for Happiness tweeted and linked to a thought-provoking article: “The current system isn’t just rubbish at making us happier, it actually demands our unhappiness to fuel growth.”

Interesting huh.

Let’s restore the balance. We’re serious.

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And The Revolution Begins!

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.

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