Monday, June 20, 2016

Happiness Ministries - What Do You Think Their Job Is?

Have you noticed? The appointment of Happiness Ministries is spreading.

Inspired  by Bhutan and the work we are doing (we know this from letters of inquiry), the United Arab Emirates appointed a Minister of Happiness earlier this year. Now a state in India, Madhya Pradesh is appointing theirs.

So what do you think a Minister of Happiness should do?  We will be composing an open letter to these new and future Ministers of Happiness to be published in July.

In 2015, we were invited to participate in the OECD fifth world forum: Transforming Policy, Changing Lives and we collected ideas from policy experts. We will be using these, as well as information we gathered when participating in the UN High Level Meeting on Wellbeing and Happiness and over the course of the last six years working in communities

Send you ideas for what a Happiness Minister's job is to info@happycounts for our open letter.

The team at the Happiness Alliance.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Smell the roses - three things you can do RIGHT NOW for your happiness.

In case you have not noticed, the roses are in bloom.  It's already June, and summer vacation for the kids is just around the corner.

Remember when you were a kid? Remember the long summer days that seemed to stretch into forever? Whether or not you had a happy childhood, remember those little moments when you caught a glimpse of something that felt eternal?

Yesterday I dedicated the day to my partner, who was close to burnout from 18 months of intense work on a project that is two days from closing.  I'd been helping along the way when I could, but he had been carrying the load, and it was crushing him.  Part of my care for him was to take him to the rose garden with the instructions to look at beautiful things.  I fed him a home-made truffle my friend Andre had given me to sweeten the deal.

We got home and I fed him dinner, and then he crawled into bed for a nap that merged into an early bedtime. I went to dance, a free-form dance where I could spend a couple of hours dancing by myself in the crowd of dancers.  The next day he woke up his usual bright eyed and bushy tailed-self.  It was nice to see his smile.

And so, here are three things I learned & experienced yesterday that you can do for your happiness:

1) Do something for somebody else.   Three ideas:

Buy a friend a coffee or go for walk and spend your time really listening.  Don't give advice unless asked, and even if asked, instead say "this is what I am hearing..." or "what comes up for me is..." or "Well, if you were going to tell yourself something or advise yourself, what would you say?"

Give your partner a body massage, asking them for feedback and doing your very best to respond to their requests. Start with the head, work down to the feet. Some people like deep tissue, and for some that hurts and they need soft brushing motion. If you have never given a massage, learn how on you-tube (punch in instructions for swedish, shiatsu or thai massage and you'll find lots of ways to learn) or best yet, get a massage from a massage therapist to learn from experience.

Give a colleague or member of your community a gift, or make a donation to a cause that you really believe in on behalf of a friend, family member or colleague at work. Given them a card with the information about the donation.

2) Appreciate yourself. Take at least 15 minutes and try for more time to go over all the good things you have done in your life. If you are a list maker, make a list of all the good things about you. If lists don't appeal to you, doodle on a large piece of paper.  No one needs to see it, so just go to town. If this is hard to do, pretend you are someone else - someone who loves you beyond measure and sees and appreciates you.

3) Smell the roses.  Slow down for a few moments and look for the beauty in whatever is around you. If you can, go to where there are roses, and get lost in the splendor of a rose. Research tells us that spending time in nature makes us happy and that even if we spend time looking at picture of nature, we can get happier. So here are some roses for you.

 Post by Laura Musikanski, ED of the Happiness Alliance

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Once Upon A Time - on happiness and time balance

How much of your time do you spend doing things you enjoy?  Are you satisfied with your work-life balance?  (Note: if you work or volunteer at more than one job, you should answer about the job you spend the longest time working at.)
These are two of the questions you will be asked if you take the Gross National Happiness Index, a tool people have been using to change their lives and transform our economy. (You can take the survey at  We have been asking people these questions since 2010, and gathered data from over 55,000 people. 
We’ve been asking people other questions too, about how their lives are in terms of their financial situation, family, community, health, environment, work, government, culture, and general life satisfaction.   It turns out time balance is one of the areas in life where people suffer the most, across the board.   
Gross National Happiness Domains
What Our Happiness Data Says about Time
When you take the Gross National Happiness Index, you get a score on a scale of 0-100.  A score of 100 would mean that everything is terrific.  In Bhutan, the country that created the concept of Gross National Happiness, the idea of sufficiently thresholds is being explored.  Scores above 67% are “extensively happy” and above 77% are “deeply happy.” People who score below this are “not yet happy.” In the United Kingdom, where the government is also measuring happiness to guide public policy, happiness thresholds are also being established.  A score of 73% meets the threshold for life satisfaction.
In the United States, our scores for the area of time balance put us in the “not yet happy” category: 49%. This score is lower than any other domain of happiness. The picture gets worse when we look closer. When asked the question “How much of your time do you spend doing things you enjoy?” the average score is 48%. The possible answers are “none of my time,” “not much of my time,” “some of my time,” “most of my time,” and  “all of my time.”
How Much of Your Time Do You Spend Doing Things You Enjoy?
When we dig down to see how we do over the span of our lives, the data paints a pretty grim picture. Thirty to forty-four years olds  have it the worse. Their scores are only 40%. But as we age, things do not get much better until 85 years old, and even then our scores go up to only 59%. 
What is happening that we are spending so much of our lives doing things that are not enjoyable?  Is work to blame?
All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy
It might be. Our score for the domain of work is 59, also below what Bhutan and the United Kingdom would call a sufficiently threshold. When we single out the question “Are you satisfied with your work-life balance?” the scores drop eight points, to 51. If you are twenty-five or in your thirties, you probably score the lowest at 45 and 46. And things do not get much better until retirement age, at 65.
Are You Satisfied with Your Work-Life Balance?
Does this mean we are an unhappy lot? Not exactly.  When asked the question “How happy did you feel yesterday” our average scores are 72. The question “How satisfied are you with your life?” gives us an average score of 71.  But for both of these questions, people below 55 are scoring below the sufficiency level of the United Kingdom. If it’s any consolation, everyone except the 12-17 year olds and the 25-29 year olds come up to sufficiently thread holds as determined by Bhutan.   
How Happy Do Your Feel? 
How Satisfied Are You  with Your Life?
Should we be satisfied with these scores? 
I think not.
The Happiness Movement
The Happiness Movement is calling for a new economic paradigm, where our governments, our companies, and our personal lives share the common goal of the wellbeing and sustainability of people and our planet.  It is a movement that was germinated over 40 years ago in Bhutan, and sprouted on April 3-5, 2012, at a High Level Meeting Wellbeing and Happiness: Defining a New Economic Paradigm held at the United Nations. At that meeting, the first World Happiness Report was issued and an invitation was extended to countries, companies and communities to transform our economy from one driven by profit, consumption, money to guided by happiness and well-being. 
Part of that transformation is a new measure for our economy. Measurements are important because, as Professor Kasser identified in his research, measurements tell us what to value.  When we started using money as our measure, we stopped valuing our own happiness, each other and our environment.  Right now the measurement all countries except Bhutan use to decide how well we are doing is the Gross Domestic Product (the sum of all goods and services produced by a country in a year). Bhutan developed Gross National Happiness Index as a replacement measure that encompasses economic factors and includes all the other things that really make us happy, including time-balance. The Happiness Alliance adapted the measure (“de-Bhutanized” it) and is spreading it to communities to bring the happiness movement to the grassroots.
What Time Balance Has To Do With Happiness Movement
            Since the beginning of the Gross National Happiness Index, time balance has weighed equally with other measures when measuring happiness and well-being. By including time-balance and the other domains of wellbeing, the Gross National Happiness Index is unique among other happiness and well-being metrics. 
            But measurements are not enough. While Kasser’s research tells us that when we adopt happiness and well-being measures to guide our policies, we will value our own happiness and the well-being of others and the planet sufficiently to change our behavior, we are not there yet. Instead, what we have today are ideas, a few examples and some research findings that point the way to a happier life and society by better managing our time.
Three Happy Endings
Stories are a time-honored way of clarifying, learning, sharing and creating the future we want.  Part of the struggle with any new movement is that the stories are still new, not dissipated, or even not yet formed. Here are three stories: a bed-time story, a work in progress and a never-ending story.  
A Bed Time Story
            Lisa thought of herself as a survivor. One thing was for sure: she was a hard worker.  She had grown up in a tough household, and learned at an early age how to care for her parents and herself. Recently an empty nester, she had taken in extra shifts so she could help her son with his tuition.  Her partner had gone from an occasional glass of wine to a bottle every night, sometimes two on the weekends, leaving Lisa carrying an ever-increasing load at home. She had trained herself to get by on very little sleep in college, and then less with a new job, even less with a child, and still less with a growing practice. At fifty-six, sleep deprivation was a way of life. She heard about the Gross National Happiness Index on a radio show on the way home from work, and took it that evening. She scored lowest in time-balance scores, but then so did everyone else. The thing was, Lisa scored a 20 in time-balance. Her scores in a few of the other domains were low too.  In the area of social support, which asks questions about how lonely, loved, and cared for you feel, her scores were also really low, and so were her scores for psychological wellbeing, which asks about feelings of optimism, positivity and purpose.  The scores were jarring. They left her feeling a bit hopeless and scared.  That night she cried herself to sleep.
            She dreamt she standing under a tree when a very large bird came, picked her up and flew her a long distance. The bird deposited her in a huge down-lined nest and in her dream she felt completely at peace. Lisa had read a lot about Jungian dream analysis, and understood that while the dream had many aspects of meaning, one was that she needed sleep. Having spent a life not sleeping more than 5 or 6 hours a night, she did not know what it meant to get enough sleep. 
            She decided to start with creating sleep haven. After failing to make her sleep nest in the bedroom with her partner, she took over her son’s room.  She called this room off-limits to everyone else.  This caused a shift in her relationship, and she explained that she was not leaving, but trying something new for herself. She went through her budget and was able to cut down expenses, then cut down on work, and make way for sleep. She took some days off to sleep. After a few months, she found she had taught herself how to sleep. She took as stay-cation. Her first ever. She slept. For the first time in memory, she experienced what it felt like not to feel tired.  Her mind felt clearer. Her body felt better. She started making small and subtle but powerful changes in her own life. With her sleep bank restored, she bought herself watercolor paints, a hobby she had given up after high school. She tuned her son’s room into an artist studio for herself and with her lighter schedule at work, she found deep enjoyment in painting.  She had found ways to take care of herself, and found her happiness.
Do you know how much sleep you need? How about your child or parent? According to the National Sleep Foundation, it changes by age:
Hours Sleep
0-3 mos.
4-11 mos.
1-2 yr.
3-5 yr.
6-13 yr.
14-17 yr.
18-64 yr.
65 + yr.

While you can recover from a week or so of sleep deprivation in a weekend, science does not have exact figures on how long it takes to recover from long term sleep deprivation. Instead, Dr. Epstein prescribes a sleepy vacation  prescribes a sleepy vacation: go somewhere close, restful and where there are few distractions that would draw you out of bed, or stay at home. Schedule nothing or as little as possible. Don’t set the alarm. Limit naps to before noon. Go to sleep when you get tired. When you wake up in the morning feeling refreshed, you have caught up on your sleep. Then the trick is to keep your sleep stock full when you go off your sleepy vacation.
Work In Progress
Jason had been laid off one and a half years ago. His unemployment had run out, and so had his savings. He was preparing to put his house on the market and move into a friend’s basement mother-in-law. Part of him wanted to find a job, and part of him had no desire to work for someone else ever again.  He did not want to trade his life for work. He took the Gross National Happiness Index when a friend told him about it, and while he scored high in time balance and many of the domains, he score quite low in terms of his financial well-being. In truth, he was scared and stressed about his finances. 
Selling his house would give him some time, but was not a lasting solution. He was thirty-five, and still had lots of life to live. The last year and a half he had focused on finding work, but with half a heart. He knew that giving up his house would change things for him, and he had a nagging sense of feeling like a looser.  He decided to flip things around. He was moving into a house bustling gamers. His last job had bee nas a UI (user interface) designer.  He decided to follow his bliss.  He loved gaming, he loved writing, he loved imaging UI platforms. He would create concepts for games, constructs for the UI, and let the rest happen. He took the plunge and invested in himself. He used the money from his house to start his own business doing what he loved. He created a work environment that was nirvana to him. He determined his working hours and working style. Within a year, he hired his first employee, who was given the option to determine her own working schedule as well.  His business was small but sustained him in many ways.
Researcher David Rock identified what he calls the SCARF Model for a happy work place. It is based on brain science and reveals that one way to meet our need for autonomy is allowing people to determine their own working hours, desks, and work-flow. Another practice that helps meet our need for relatedness (feeling connected and cared for) is taking the time to build relationships and bond at work, whether in meetings by sharing stories or through buddy systems, mentor programs and small action learning groups. 
A Never Ending Story
            The last story in this post is your time balance and happiness story. It's a bit of a trick, because the moral of this story is that your time – and your life – is yours, and in making decisions about your life, you make decisions about your happiness. 
            Today’s dominant economic paradigm says that the more money you make, the happier you will be. Even though research proves this to be untrue, we continue to buy into this myth.  Whether you believe the science or not, intrinsically you know that your life is worth more than money. So the real questions are, are you happy?  Is the life you are living the right life for you? Is your time being spent on the things you love? What is the story of your life?
Once Upon A Happy Time in A Far Away Land
            In a nation where happiness and well-being are the goals of the economy and  are the metrics by which we measure our national, economic and personal success will we experience time balance?  Ultimately it will be up to us. The way to create the future we want is to live the stories that lay the path forward.  So if you have read this far, I encourage, urge and ask you to create, share and tell your story of time balance, happiness and wellbeing so others in your life can see how it is done.

Post by Laura Musikanski, Executive Director of Happiness Alliance at

Happiness Expedia

Do you work for Expedia? Then read this and take the Gross National Happiness Index for your group. (Quick hack for when you take the survey: go to SIGN UP from the sign in page). We will use your group's scores during a one hour talk on May 23. (Contact Ram for details about our talk).  

Wondering is the Gross National Happiness Index about? 

  • The Happiness Movement bringing to the forefront the importance of happiness in our lives, our society and for our economy.
  • The  Beyond GDP Movement to expand the measures our governments and institutions use to measure success. 
  • The Positive Psychology Movement to expand and change our understanding of what makes us happy and how we can be happy. 

At our table on Earth Day and our talk on May 23 we will explore the connections  between personal happiness, societal well-being and planetary sustainability.
If you work at Expedia, click here to take the survey. If not, use this link!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Debunking Happiness - the Importance of Being Sad.

This is the second of a series posts for 2016 that explain the work I have been doing in the happiness movement. The first post "What's Gross About Happiness?" explains the Gross National Happiness Index. This second post looks at the interplay between sadness and happiness.  At the end of the year, these posts will be compiled into an e-book. 

Ponder this.
Have you ever deeply pondered what happiness really is? When asked the question, at first what automatically spring to mind  is probably a smiley face maybe, a cherished memory, favorite food, a reward or even maybe a state of ease and contentment, but if you allow yourself the time to think
deeper, your initial, automatic thought, will probably seem trivial and even a bit silly compared to what you come up with. So, try it. Take a few minutes now, or, if you read on, some lazy morning or a quiet afternoon, and really think about what happiness is.

You may be surprised at the complexity of this question, and what your mind comes up with if you give it time to deeply ponder.  Carl Jung said “Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better to take things as they come along with patience and equanimity.” The Dalai Lama instructs us, in his book The Art of Happiness to “examine the factors that normally give rise to feelings of discontent and mental unhappiness.”

Two Sad Stories

Two stories are indelibly stuck in my head when I think about this question. In the first story, I was giving one of my first talks about the happiness movement to a group of students at a local performance arts college, the Cornish College of the Arts. I like to take risks when I speak. I asked the students to say “popcorn style” (meaning anyone can shout out what they have to say as it comes up), in one word, what happiness means to them. After about 20 of the expected and popular words – family, love, a pet, dancing- a young woman shouted out “sadness.” Silence fell. I filled it with a definition of happiness that encompassed all feelings, but to this day, regret that we did not take more time teasing out what that young woman had to say.  I learned from my mistake.

A few months later, I was invited to speak at the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference at the University. I chose a different question to ask the audience.  It was a question we used to have in
our Gross National Happiness Index (but since got cut because of the demand to shorten the survey). I still love the question.  The question is: How long do you expect to live? 60? 70? 80?

Then I started at 60, asking people to raise their hands. A few did. a voice in the back emerged. “Younger.” 55? I asked. The voice was bolder. “Younger.”  “45”.  It felt like the air was knocked out of my lungs. I had just passed by 45 birthday by one year. I could feel the audience. A group taken aback.   I stood in front of them and panic came up and with it an urge to roll over the moment of our talk. Not this time.

I asked the speaker if he would tell us his name and if he would be comfortable with us all (there were about 250 or 300 people) taking a moment of silence for him. He said yes. David Stewart.  We sat in silence for him, sending love and hope.  When it was over, I was still not sure what to do. Then someone from the audience said “why not let him talk.”  I looked into her face for guidance and knowledge. It was not she specifically I was looking to, but the face of humanity. Yes, why not?  It was the right thing to do. It was, as is said, a sweet comeuppance.

Vandana Shiva had been in the audience, but by this time she had left, her entourage in tow. David took the microphone easily. His doctors told him he had three years to live. He had two small children.  He told us why he was at the conference at this time in his life. She missed a magnificent and instructive talk on the meaning of life.  He died a year later, at 41. 

How to Be Sad
If you have read this far, you have probably figured out that happiness is not all rainbows and unicorns, unending bliss and contentment. Not if you are living in the real world, at least.  Being truly happy includes feeling sad, angry, distressed, panicky, upset, and all the other feelings you would not ordinarily seek out or want your self or your loved ones to continually experience. But you need to have those feelings to truly be happy.

When Brené Brown gave her TED talk on vulnerability she said “You cannot selectively numb (the bad feelings)…when we numb those (feelings), we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness.” 

In other words, you gotta take the bad with the good. If you want to be happy – be sad.

In the comment section in the  Gross National Happiness Index, it is evident that there is lots of sadness in people. A few comments people have left are:

“I was designed to enable the fulfillment of another persons dream and not only is that soul crushingly depressing, it pisses me off.”

“I just need to figure out something to do about why I am always feeling down all the time.”

“I have been in this state of depression and being anxious about money for most of my life, and yet I have lots of money, and a good stable job that they will never fire me from.”

“Sadness and lack of joy overshadows all of the many positives I have achieved and have in life.”

There are lots of positive comments too, but the ones about depression, being down, and other difficult feelings made an impression on me and my board of directors. That is why, in 2014, my board decided the Happiness Alliance should focus on sadness, depression and grief for the year. We wanted to talk about the hard stuff that no matter how much you put on a happy face on it, focus on the silver lining or try to fake it ‘til you make it, you just don’t feel truly happy.

Lots of people say they do not want to take the Gross National Happiness Index survey because they fear they are too unhappy. I understand that. When we first put out the survey, I dragged my heels before taking it. The truth was I was quite unhappy, and I felt embarrassed to see my scores when I was working on happiness.  When I did finally take it, it was not so bad. It helped me see my situation in a different context. But what our survey did not do was give people truthful help for really tough emotions, something beyond getting good exercise, sleep and swapping out bad habit for good ones. Those lessons (and there are many) are valid and important, but not much help when you’re stuck in an emotional mire. 

The first two tools we issued were Feeling Sad, Feeling Happy, a discourse on how to deal with hard feelings that starts with a validation of all feelings. It quickly got 300 hits, and then continued to gain popularity. That was followed by a tool for identifying feelings, How Are You Feeling, and the first of a series on grief, Happiness for When You Are Depressed. Tools for the stages of grief followed: Denial and Bargaining & Anger (these can be found on the Happiness Alliance website at 

All of these tools for happiness can be boiled down to three simple statements:
·      Your feelings are important.
·      If you don’t feel like your feelings are important, you end up feeling like you are not important.
·      Talk about your feelings – and find someone (like a therapist, doctor or good friend) to talk with.

It’s a little bit strange to focus on misery when you are working in a happiness movement, and some people objected. One person felt the focus on unhappiness was unhelpful and wanted information that focused on happiness. She was at the stage when she was ready to move out of depression by focusing on the positive, which is a very different place from someone who has not yet processed their difficult feelings. 

In my job as the executive director of the Happiness Alliance, I tried to steer her to our tools that were designed for this, like the Personal Happiness Handbook, our most popular took, and Happiness Paths, but she objected that the tools might be seen as a replacement to much needed therapy. 

There is a lot about the happiness movement – or any movement for that matter - that is open to misunderstanding. I felt a bit sad and disappointed about the exchange with that person. That the person who reached out was so very unhappy about the message that its important to have all your feelings, including the unhappy ones, left me feeling unhappy to. The irony is this person was expressing the negative feelings that it is helpful to express.  

So I talked about this with my board members.  We knew we were doing something no other happiness organization had done by taking unhappiness head on, and decided that even though some people were not going to like it, it was still important enough to do.

Like I said earlier, there is a lot about any movement that is open to misunderstanding. That is because there is a lot to learn about any new field.

How to be sad in order to be happy is one of the things we need to learn.

What Happiness is Not

The truth is, there is such thing as being too happy.  One common complaint is that people who are completely happy lack ambition, and there is some truth to this.

Let’s say you define happiness as pleasure. Then let’s say you decide to spend your life energy on
pleasure. What is your pleasure? If you read Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner you will remember the passage when he experimented with hash in Amsterdam. He contemplated a life spent in the hash den.  He decided that kind of happiness led to no happiness at all.

No doubt, you can imagine a similar scenario. Maybe you even know someone who has dedicated their life to chasing happiness through a pleasurable substance or activity, or you did this for a while. You’ve probably also seen the damage that does to their own wellbeing and the happiness of their loved one. So we know that constantly seeking pleasure, and avoiding unhappiness with pleasure, does not make us happy.

The Wrong Kind of Sad

Anyone suffering from manic-depression will tell you that the manic phase of the dysfunction is wonderful. Foods taste better. People look lovely. You’re super productive and optimism
rules.  But you pay with the flip side. And the depths of depression that you sink to are debilitating.  Manic happiness and debilitating depression are not the kind of happiness and sadness that lead to happiness and well-being.  It’s the wrong kind of sadness. But debilitating depression can be brought on for other reasons. An overwhelming shock when you do not have the resources or support to deal with it can bring on depression. Sometimes an insignificant event will trigger depression when a bigger event in your past was never processed.  Whatever the case, if you are suffering from depression and do not have the resources or support to work through it, then often talk therapy combined with medication prescribed by your doctor can play an important role in finding a path to happiness.

More Ways Not to be Happy

Pollyannaism is another happiness trap. If you can only see the bright side, you probably lack some basic survival skills. If all humans were like that, we probably would not have survived as a species. The Dalai Lama is sometimes quoted as giving the example of a person seeing a grizzly bear in the woods. The foolishly happy person will assume it's a big teddy bear, and poses no threat. A sane person would not be happy about seeing that bear, and keep way.

We are programmed with the tendency to search for danger in an unknown situation. Our naturaldisposition is to see the dark side of things. There is a reason for this. A hundred or
ten thousand years ago, it made a lot more sense to assume the dark shadowy figure lurking up the path is a threat and proceed with caution – or turn and run – than to blithely go along a dangerous alley assuming everything is awesome. You know this on an instinctual level. And if you have a friend who is a Pollyanna, you probably find her annoying mostly because she seems incapable of taking care of herself in the face of obvious – at least to you - danger. 

Besides being annoying, a person who is too happy may also lack imagination, motivation and may not be very good at whatever it is they do.

What Happiness Is

There is no definitive answer to the question of what happiness is.  There are working definitions, and these are informed by the values and goals of the person making the definition.  For my board, me, and this project, our goals are the sustainability, resilience and wellbeing of all beings on our planet. This means we define happiness multi-dimensionally.  With the Gross National Happiness Index we looked at dimensions of happiness, and by doing this, we link a person’s happiness to others and to the environment. Here are some examples of the kinds of questions the survey asks:

     To what extent to you feel your life is worthwhile?
     Are you optimistic about your future?
     Do you have enough money to buy what you want?
     How satisfied are you with your work?
     What is the state of your health, ranging from poor to excellent?
     How much of your time do you spend doing things you enjoy?
     How safe do your feel in your city?
     Do people in your life care about you?
     Do you have a sense of belonging to your local community?
     Are you satisfied with the opportunities to develop your skills through informal education?
     How healthy is your environment?
     How satisfied are you with the job being done by local government officials?

The intent is that, by pondering all these different aspects of happiness, a person will see how the wellbeing of others, the state of the conditions in their life and their own feelings and sense of the worthiness of their life all fit together.  It’s a big goal, and not at all easy to explain in a sound bite. Instead, we chunk it – divide it into small bits and take small steps. One of those is re-defining happiness to include sadness.

Posted with love, Laura Musikanski 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

What's Gross about Happiness?

Laura's chalk happiness excursions
This is the first of twelve posts for 2016 that explain the work of the Happiness Alliance, the Gross National Happiness Index and the Happiness Movement.  I am writing these posts from my own perspective of having been in the happiness movement since 2010.  At the end of the year, all of these posts will be collected and issued as a book.

This is the first post and it explains the Gross National Happiness Index. Each post is meant to inspire you towards your own happiness and to participate in the happiness movement.  Thanks for reading! Laura Musikanski, executive director of the Happiness Alliance

Gross National Happiness is an index. It's a philosophy. It's emblematic of a paradigm shift to an economic system based on sustainability, love and well-being for all. And it's more. Since 2010, it has been the portal that has changed people's lives. It has transformed communities and guided countries.

Let me tell you two stories to illustrate this point.

A Personal View on Gross National Happiness

In 2011, when we first issued the Gross National Happiness index survey in North America, a woman took the survey.  She worked for a not-for-profit doing environmental work in California. Her job was to measure the impact of the nonprofits various projects and report it.  By her own definition, she was a data-junky.

Her survey scores looked like this:
Gross National Happiness Scores 
Notice anything about the scores?  Being a data junky, she realized this immediately. Before you read on, see if you can see it.

She scored higher than all other survey takers on pretty much every domain of happiness except satisfaction with life.

It's important to understand that she knew that her scores were her own self-assessment of her well-being. Nobody was dictating to her that she was better or worse off than others. Nobody was observing her and telling her that her health was good or her financial future was rosy.  She had determined her own scores by answering the questions in the survey.

This is what she realized:  Her life was as good as it gets. Any unhappiness or dissatisfaction that she felt was not because of anything external in her life. She realized with a finality she had not felt before the truth that nobody and nothing could make her happy. She did not need to change anything in her life. She did not need a new job. She loved her job. She did not need to move. Her neighborhood was great. She did not need a different family, to lose weight, get more stuff, or have more friends. Her life was really good.  It was up to her if she wanted to feel better about her life.

She decided to take up a daily gratitude practice.  Everyday she wrote down three things she was grateful for.  Within a few months, she found that thanking the people in her life who did little things, like the teller at the grocery store and the front dest person at work, came more naturally and frequently. She also found herself admiring her husband and little boy more frequently. At first they were a little surprised when she would praise them unexpectedly. They happily got used to it.

She decided to start a daily mindfulness practice. Every day she sat for at least five minutes and just watched her mind think, or observe the inhale and exhale of her breath. Sometimes she missed a day, or a few, but would take the practice back up when she remembered, without chastising herself. After one year, she took the Gross National Happiness Index again. There was one noticeable change in her scores. Her satisfaction with life scores went up. In a conversation with her, she told me that she felt, indeed, happier.

That's a story about how the Gross National Happiness index has made a person happier. Here is a story about how it has had a transformative effect at a national scale.

Gross National Happiness at a National Scale

Bhutan, source of Gross National Happiness
In 2008 Bhutan (a country in the Himalayas about the size of Switzerland) used its Gross National Happiness index to measure the well-being of its population.  Forty years earlier the King of Bhutan had coined the term "Gross National Happiness" when queried about his country's economic future. Bhutan's Gross National Happiness scores were used to inform laws, policy and programs for the nation. A Gross National Happiness Commission was convened to help draft, aid the parliament in promulgating, and then implement happiness policies. The United Nations took notice.  So did many policy makers, media, and others.

In 2009, a year later, the president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, let the world know about a report he had commissioned, popularly called the Stiglitz report. It is called the Stiglitz report because Joseph Stiglitz, a nobel prize winner in economics lead the project, along with Amartya Sen, another nobel prize winner in economics, who wrote Development as Freedom, and Jean-Paul Fitoussi, a French jewish Tunisian-born economist  (I also am a French citizen, jewish and Tunisian born, but not an economist. Funny, the little coincidences in life.) lead its creation.  Sarkozy urged all presidents of countries across the globe to adopt wider measures of well-being in lieu of Gross Domestic Product.

The Stiglitz report said that countries needed to use wider measures of societal well-being and environmental sustainability to guide policy. It said that the current measure governments use were prone to giving policymakers a distorted view and exacerbating growing income inequality, among other things.  Since then, the United Kingdom followed Bhutan in measuring the happiness of their people and using the data for public policy, the European Commission created a brain trust that culminated in a report called the BRAINPOoL Report, and forty countries around the world started the process of measuring happiness at a national level.  These two events may someday be seen as signs of the trimtabs that changed the course of events for our planet. I hope so.

Trimtabs are the rudders on the rudder of a ship or airplane that determine the long range direction of the vessel. The Gross National Happiness Index is a trimtab.

The Gross in Gross National Happiness

So what is the Gross National Happiness Index and what's so Gross about happiness?

Oxford Dictionary defines "gross" as: (1) (especially of a wrongdoing) very obvious and blatant and (2) (Of income, profit, or interest) without deduction of tax or other contributions. Webster's defines it as (1) (a) immediately obvious, (2)(a) big and bulky; 2 (b) growing and spreading with excessive luxuriance and (3) (b) consisting of an overall total exclusion of deductions.  We are going to go with Oxford's second and Webster's third definition of gross, but will keep in mind the preceding definitions.

The Gross National Happiness index gets its name from the term "Gross National Product." Today, people say "Gross Domestic Product," so let's use that term. Gross Domestic Product is the sum of all
goods and services a country produces in a year. If you measured the Gross Domestic Product for your household, you would include all the money you and all the people in your home earned at work, all gains from investments, any money you got from selling stuff on e-bay, at a garage sale or to somebody (like if you sold your car), and money you won or were awarded, like for a law suit. Essentially all the money that came into your household.

For a country, you can calculate Gross Domestic Product by adding up all the money spent, or all the money earned. In either case, you will include the money earned or spent on everything ranging from computers to environmental restoration, from hospital bills to lawyers, from guns to prisons.  It counts things that matter to us and counts things that hurt us. It misses anything that you do not get money for, such as parenting your child, family time, a day off, sleep, a hike in the mountains, an act of kindness to a stranger. This is why Bobby Kennedy said that Gross Domestic Product "can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans."  Today, we could say the same thing about every other country (except Bhutan and, to a degree, the United Kingdom) because today every government is using Gross Domestic Product as the main measure to guide governments.

This is where we circle back in the first definitions of gross.  Remember them? Gross is (1) (especially of a wrongdoing) very obvious and blatant (Oxford), (2) (a) big and bulky; 2 (b) growing and spreading with excessive luxuriance (Webster).

It turns out that when we talk about Gross Domestic Product, it is gross. Even the creator of Gross Domestic Product, Simon Kuznets, thought so. When he introduced it to the U.S. Congress in 1934, he cautioned our elected officials that "The welfare of a nation can scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income."  We did not heed. Instead we built our nation, and then other nations built their nations on the singular objective of increasing Gross Domestic Product. Coming out of the depression in 1934, we figured a little money is a good thing, so a lot of money would be a better thing. Turns out, not so.

Can't Buy You Love

Money does not bring happiness once you recover from a depression.  It does bring a lot other things, though.  Inequality. Environmental degradation. Discontent with a simple life.  We have all of those in oodles now. As our Gross Domestic Product increases, we will likely have more and more of it. This is because Gross Domestic Product does not catch inequalities, injustices or the side effects (economists call it externalities) of everything money can buy.  Nonetheless, we keep using Gross Domestic Product.

But now we have Gross National Happiness.  Gross National Happiness is a measure that counts the things Gross Domestic Product leaves behind. It accounts for income, and includes many other areas and activities of our lives and our country.  Gross National Happiness measures:
  • Satisfaction with life (how you feel and if this life is worthwhile)
  • Economy
    Gross National Happiness 
  • Work
  • Time Balance
  • Environment
  • Health 
  • Government   
  • Community 
  • Social Support
  • Learning
  • Culture
  • Psychological Well-being.

It asks you questions like "Do you feel a strong sense of community?" and "Are you able to make ends meet?" It accounts for whether you feel your environment is healthy or toxic and if the bottom fell out from your life, you would have a place to turn.

So what is so gross about that? Well, by name and origin, it is a proposed alternative to Gross Domestic Product.

The Gross is Gross Domestic Product

Past and Projected Gross Domestic Product from
Today our country's Gross Domestic Product is huge, at just over 17 trillion dollars. It's "big and bulky" and "growing and spreading with excessive luxuriance." By 2020, it is expected to go up to over 22 trillion.

Good news?

Very likely not.  Remember, money does not buy you happiness once you have recovered from economic hard times.

Imagine Gross Happiness

Imagine our government used Gross National Happiness as its guide. Imagine we held our health in
the same esteem as our bank accounts. Imagine that how we defined ourselves as community members - volunteering, participating in sports, arts or governance - was as valued as our career success. Imagine you spent as much time with your family and friends as you wish you could and your boss worked with you to ensure this happened.

Imagine companies were invested in because of how well they performed in the community and for the workforce, as well as their financial output.

Imagine if policy maker vied for ways to increase the happiness, well-being and sustainability of our nation in as many of the domains of happiness as they could.

What if our happiness were big and bulky? What if it were obvious that you were happy? What if happiness was growing and spreading at a national and individual level?

There are some real examples of how happiness policy spreads happiness, well-being and sustainability. In Denmark, often cited as one of the happiest countries in the world because of its scores in the Gallup World Poll, policy makers hold annual political festivals that are open to all. People come and listen to the people who want to be elected and the incumbents speak for one day, and then for the subsequent days, can meet with them for discussion at booths or in meetings. Imagine if our city and county elections in the U.S. were precipitated by a political festival.  In Costa Rica, often cited as the happiest country on the planet because of its scores on the Happy Planet Index, the forest covers 52% of the land, with a goal for 70% and a carbon-neutral country by 2020. The policies implemented to get there were drastic and daring. The army was disbanded and funds were channeled into efforts to restore forest cover, which had dwindled to 25%, and into social programs including schools, jobs and social security.  Imagine if the world powers were to do that.

There are other examples of happiness guiding government that are bite sized. In the United Kingdom, where scores showed high-school aged kids were not so happy, summer programs were implemented to match youth up to community building projects in their borough or town. In Victoria, British Columbia, a section of downtown was smattered with "8 smiles per zone" signs to encourage people to smile at least eight times an hour. In the state of Vermont, policy makers and not-for-profit leaders were treated to a weekend seminar to learn what accountability to happiness data meant, and then invited to join a data collaboratory.

Measurements Matter

I mentioned earlier that the Gross National Happiness Index is a trimtab. You may be wondering what the heck that means. It has to do with the power of measurements. Have you ever heard the sayings "what you measure matters," "you get what you measure" or "what you measure is what you get"?  There is more truth than one might expect in these adages.

If you watched the movie Happy, at about 28 minutes in, you saw my friend Tim Kasser explain.
Tim Kasser in the movie Happy.
He talked about values, goals and metrics.  Metrics have a direct causal relationship to our goals. If we measure money, our goals are to make more money. If we measure happiness, our goals are to become happier. Tim's research tells us that measuring gross domestic product means we set our goals for money, image and status. These are extrinsic goals. Even if we achieve them, they do not make us happy.  But if we set our goals for personal growth (really being you), personal relationships (deeply connecting with your friends and loved ones), and helping the world to be a better place, we are happier.  And, when governments use measurements, they are telling people what is important, and what to value. If governments use happiness and well-being measurements, then people value sustainability, wellbeing and happiness for themselves and others. In other words, what you measure, matters.

So, right now, we live in a world where our society tells us that money, wealth, status and image are more important than making the world a better place, loving and being yourself. You probably feel this in your everyday life. Have you ever apologized for doing volunteer work or for being different? Have you ever felt too embarrassed to express your feelings?  Do you feel like you do not have the choice to do what you really want to do in life?  The truth is that for most people, if they did the work they felt called to do, they may not earn enough of a living For many of us, if we fully expressed our feelings (in a healthy way), we may be ostracized by family and colleagues. And for most of us, there just is not enough time in a day to spend as much time as we would like with our friends and loved ones.

So what can you do right now, in a world where money matters and being truly you, giving to others, acting out your crazy self, and taking care of the planet is frowned down upon? Take little bites. The time that you do have with your loved ones, try to be fully present. Bring your focus back on them each time it strays. If you have time with a niece, nephew, child or grandchild and find yourself on your cell phone, don't chastise yourself, but put it down, and join your loved one in what they are doing. If they are playing a video game, don't demand they stop - join them or ask to watch and participate in a non-judgemental way (praise is always good -seek things to praise about what they are doing).  If you wish you could do more to save the planet, love that you are the kind of person that feels this way. Look back over the last year and find all the things you did right. Think on how you have been a good person.

You can make a difference. Let's live in a nation where happiness, well-being and sustainability matter at least as much as money. You can be a part of the happiness movement by bringing the message of the happiness movement into your home, your community and your life.

Stay tuned to learn more about the happiness movement and visit our website at to find tons of information and resources.

And if you are inspired, take the Gross National Happiness index survey and use it in your community.

Posted with love, Laura Musikanski