Is the U.S. the next country to embrace Gross National Happiness?

The Washington Post reports: Funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a panel of experts in psychology and economics, including Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, began convening in December to try to define reliable measures of ‘subjective well-being.’ If successful, these could become official statistics. The idea of the government tallying personal feelings ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

The Washington Post reports:

Funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a panel of experts in psychology and economics, including Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, began convening in December to try to define reliable measures of 'subjective well-being.' If successful, these could become official statistics.

The idea of the government tallying personal feelings might seem frivolous -- or impossibly difficult. For decades, after all, the world has gotten by with gauging a nation’s quality of life on the basis of its GDP, or gross domestic product, the sum of its economic output. But economists and others have long recognized that GDP, a dollars and cents measure, doesn’t count everything that might be considered important when assessing living conditions." 

The Washington Post reports:

Funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a panel of experts in psychology and economics, including Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, began convening in December to try to define reliable measures of ‘subjective well-being.’ If successful, these could become official statistics.

The idea of the government tallying personal feelings might seem frivolous — or impossibly difficult. For decades, after all, the world has gotten by with gauging a nation’s quality of life on the basis of its GDP, or gross domestic product, the sum of its economic output. But economists and others have long recognized that GDP, a dollars and cents measure, doesn’t count everything that might be considered important when assessing living conditions." 

Alan Krueger, the chair of the president’s Council of Economic Advisors is a leading researcher in the field of happiness measurement. According to the Post, President Obama has "welcomed" the effort.

The U.S. wouldn’t be the first country to try something like this. King Jigme Singye Wangchuck of Bhutan famously pledged in 1972 to measure his country’s progress not in GDP but in "gross national happiness." The idea has been somewhat discredited since, as Bhutanese government’s definition of happiness seems to include ethnic cleansing and bizarrely intrusive authoritarianism

French president Nicolas Sarkozy rolled out a new happiness measurement as an official economic indicator in 2009 after commissioning a special report from Nobel Prize winning economists Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen. British Prime Minister David Cameron has also suggested including happiness measurements along with GDP. 

I’m all for investigating alternatives to GDP, and happiness measurement seems like a promising area for economic research. But politically — particularly during a time of measurable economic distress — this seems like a hard sell. 

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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