Monday, February 19, 2018

Planning for Happiness: Indonesia's Recipe for Happiness

This past week, at the Dialogue for Global Happiness in Dubai, Bambang Brojonegoro, the Minister of National Development Planning of Indonesia, presented  his nation's recipe for happiness. It is an approach  that will likely be quickly followed by other countries.

Indonesia is about one fifth the size of the USA. About 87% of the population are Muslim.  With approximately 253 million people, the population is about 78% of that in the USA. Imagine the population of the USA increasing four fold, from 323 million to 1.6 billion and you have an idea of the population density in Indonesia. On the Indonesia archipelago, over 300 language are spoken.  The average income is 90% less than that in the USA. This means many of the people in Indonesia live in poverty.

Indonesia's happiness ranking is pretty low. Out of 155 countries, its happiness ranking is 81, with one being the highest (Norway).  According to this happiness ranking, happiness is determined by six factors: Gross Domestic Product per capita (average income), social support (having someone to count on in times of need, generosity (donating but not volunteering), healthy life expectancy, perceptions of corruption in the government, and freedom to make life choices. In Indonesia, income, social support and generosity are the largest contributors to happiness, while perception of corruption does not figure for Indonesia's the rankings in 2017.

In light of this low score, at the Dialogue for Global Happiness, Bambang Brojonegoro posed the question: What to do? In the Indonesian government, the planning department is taking on the integration of happiness into sustainability and the operations of government. Their entry way is the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals (SGD), arranged in a pyramid.   The pathway for their integration is the three core values of Muslim religion: 1) Hablum minalla: people to God vertical relationship, Hablum minannas: people to people horizontal relationship and 3) Hablum minal'alam: people to nature relationship. These values are translated into Indonesian culture as 1) harmony of people with people, 2) harmony of people with nature and, 3) harmony of people with the spiritual.

But what does this mean in terms of practical application at the governmental level. In the words of Bambang Brojonegoro, what to do?

The pathway seems obvious for remedying a nation of people in poverty: economic development. But developing an economy aligned with the SDG goals that brings about the happiness and well-being of its people is not that obvious, as the economic development of many of the richest countries in the world well demonstrates (except maybe Norway...).   Bambang Brojonegoror spoke of goals within the framework of economic development: employment, household income and self development through education and skill training. He also talked about realizing these goals through programs and policies aimed at increasing the happiness and well-being levels of his nation's people. "Happiness will bring economic growth ultimately" he said. He seems to have things backwards from the accepted point of view. Genius.  It's a formula the rest of the world would do well to consider.

The measurement his government is using instead of GDP is a happiness index. Now, there are many happiness indices, from our own, the Happiness Alliance's Happiness Index, to Gallup's World Poll, the OECD Better Life Index, and many others.  But the Indonesian Planning Department decided to create their own. Maybe because they score so low on other indices, or maybe because the data would be more useful for their purposes, or maybe a combination of these and other factors, they have created what they call the Indonesia Happiness Index.

The Indonesia Happiness Index is composed of three parts: Life Satisfaction, Affect (feelings), and Eudaimonia (Meaning in life). This composition is aligned with the OECD Guidelines for Measuring Subjective Well-being. In the life satisfaction dimension "personal relationship satisfaction and social relationship satisfaction" are measured.  In the feeling dimension, "unworried feeling, happy feeling and un-depressed feeling" are measured. In the meaning of life dimension, "interdependency, self-acceptance, development and positive relation with other people" are measured.

The data will be used "so people's the center of development" said Bambang Brojonegoro.  Plans at the Department of Planning are to first focus on what people value the most in Indonesia: ways of strengthening families. This approach of focusing on strengths to address areas of weakness is considered to be the pathway for economic growth in the long run. Again, genius. 

Bambang Brojonegoro ended his talk at the Dialogue for Global Happiness with a quote to explain the effect this approach has had on civil servants in the department of National Development Planning of Indonesia:

"Nothing makes us happier more than making others happy around us."

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