NASSAU, The Bahamas,
Monday May 27, 2019 – International movements focused on policy
reform are promoting a shift from partisan economic indicators to account for
and to prioritize improving national well-being and happiness.
Research has also proven that increasing Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
doesn’t translate into happy citizens, nor does it truly represent a country’s
wealth distribution and standard of living.
Established in 1972 by King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the 4th
King of Bhutan, Gross National Happiness (GNH) provides a linkage between
economic and social policies across nine domains including cultural
diversity and resilience, good governance, ecological diversity, education, and living standards.
The 2019 Global Happiness and Wellbeing Policy Report recognizes that when
governments and decision-making processes adopt
happiness as its policy objective, collaboration across government ministries
increases, creating a greater impact beyond surface-level economics. It also
provides an opportunity to produce measurable outcomes that can be analyzed by
a common cadent, well-being.
A prominent example of its application can be found in Aarhus, Denmark,
one of the highest ranked happiest places to live according to the UN’s World
Through data collection, Denmark was able to relate high crime rates
within a community to unhappy citizens—who noted that they were displeased with
the government’s lack of action and
attention. In an effort to increase social and environmental interactions, the
Government renovated the community’s central
park to include the expansion of green spaces and
opportunities for play. Using the social data collected, adaptations to the
physical environment allowed the Government to tackle a much larger social
problem (crime) by identifying local-level solutions to the community’s immediate
needs. Renovations to the urban design also attracted businesses throughout the
area, which was further translated into economic growth at the national level.
Within its ‘happy cities agenda’, the 2019 Global
Happiness and Well-being Policy Report calls on “city custodians and managers [to]
increase happiness in the city by adopting a data-driven approach towards a
socially smart city, and enhancing the themes of designing happy cities.” Acknowledging
that there are enablers – internal and external – and design elements that contribute to the establishment of happy cities,
identifying achievable activities of timescales – short, medium and long term –
can help governments prioritize their economic and social goals.
A common challenge that governments face is policy implementation, due to the lack of political will, financial resources, and limited access to capacity. What communities don’t often see is how policies directly improve their quality of life and, most importantly, their income. Research has shown that, generally, people are less concerned about GDP and more concerned about common social themes such as corruption (trust), varying degrees of abuse and inequalities (connection), and poor infrastructure and high crime rates (safety). Collecting data on these three common social themes (trust, connection, and safety) has proven helpful in identifying achievable actions that can be executed within a respectable time frame.
In 2016, the United Arab Emirates announced the addition of a State
Minister of Happiness. Supported by a department, the State Minister launched
numerous community-based and private sector programmes that aligned with the Government’s
goal to promote a culture of happiness. Similarly, Venezuela and Nigeria have
all created government positions and departments to prioritize improving their
communities’ social happiness and well-being.
This approach to policy development can be of great
benefit to any government system often consumed with finding solutions to complex issues such
as energy reform and climate change, which rarely produces tangible and
immediate results that can be appreciated by the average person. For people to
feel like any government is working on their behalf, they must be able to see
or feel changes to either their direct environment or their personal
circumstances. It is important to note that these changes shouldn’t come on the
brink of an election or with the solicitation of votes.
Today, millennials are acquiring more from politicians and government bodies. Party politricks is no longer an acceptable method of governance;
therefore, we must shift our approach to how we evolve as a community and
To learn more about how governments can adopt the happiness agenda, check-out the Global Happiness and Well-being Report which also provides ‘how to’ tips for governments.
Kendria Ferguson is a Sustainability Consultant based in Nassau, The Bahamas. She holds a Masters of Arts in Sustainable Energy from the University of South Florida and is an accredited Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Associate (GA) professional. Her work focuses on sustainable development and climate change adaptation and resilience in Small Island Developing States (SIDS).