PR for People Monthly JANUARY 2016 - Page 20

These days, there seems to be a growing consensus that the old measurements that nations have used to evaluate economic success—most notably, the Gross Domestic Product—are blunt swords which tell us little about quality of life. Around the world, many countries are looking for new metrics. In October, I joined 1400 people from 60 countries at the OECD’s annual Measuring Well-being conference in Guadalajara, Mexico for a closer look into the subject.

My interest began when I learned about efforts to measure well-being in the tiny Himalayan country of Bhutan, whose young king had once famously proclaimed that “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product.” With expert advice from social scientists, Bhutan began surveying its happiness or “well-being” with reference to nine “domains” considered to be essential for quality of life:

- material well-being, or “living standards,” (the chief component of GDP) but also,

- health

- psychological well-being

- environment

- cultural vitality

- community vitality

- governance

- time balance and

- education

A few years later, I found myself in Bhutan, as part of an International Expert Working Group advising its then Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley, as part of a report Bhutan was producing for the United Nations. I had been asked to provide advice on the issue of “time balance,” based on my decade of work as director of Take Back Your Time ( Our goal was to produce a report on best practices for achieving Equitable and Sustainable Well-being and Happiness.

Almost immediately, two major issues divided our Working Group. The first was a matter of definition. Many of the academics in our group were made nervous by the term “happiness,” which they thought was lacking in seriousness and rigor. They preferred “well-being,” as many policy makers do. But the activists among us, and the Bhutanese, preferred the term happiness, considering well-being a bit wonky as a term.

Secondly, there was a debate over how to improve happiness or well-being. Many in our group believed it was a matter of policy change, but a sizeable minority felt that personal change was more important. When one speaker argued that policy didn’t matter at all, half the room seemed ready to fly home. Tensions rose.


By John de Graaf