Friday, June 21, 2013

A Happiness Initiative in Jamaica?

One of the graduates of our Happiness Leadership Trainings, Michael Roberts, is working with communities in Jamaica to explore use of the Gross National Happiness Index in an area there.  Some recent press about Jamaica:

Jamaica ranks 40 out of 156 nations in the first United Nations-commissioned World Happiness Report, edited by renowned economists Jeffrey Sachs, John Helliwell and Richard Layard, and released recently.
The findings, released in April, indicate the island was most negatively affected by corruption and lacklustre growth. However, when those measures are discounted, Jamaica ranks among the world's happiest people.
Denmark, Finland, Norway, Netherlands and Canada scored the highest on the index, and Togo the lowest.
Jamaica aside, the happiest countries in the region were found to be Costa Rica, Venezuela, Panama, Mexico and Brazil. The report found that Hispaniola, the Dominica Republic and Haiti, respectively, were the least happy regionally.
Why so happy?
Helliwell, professor emeritus of economics at the University of British Columbia, told Wednesday Business in an interview that a country's rank was due to the interplay of the potential for happiness with social support, health and life expectancy, corruption and freedom to choose.
"Then the bars show how well-being is higher in a specific country because their income is higher, their lifespan longer and their corruption less ... than in the least favoured country," Helliwell said.
Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, did not respond to a request for comments. Layard, is the director for the Well-being Programme at the Centre for Economic Performance, London School of Economics and Political Science.
The rankings, captured in a ranking graph, or cantril ladder, indicate that Jamaica's happiness was most negatively affected by corruption and lacklustre growth.
Helliwell said the ranking is an average of several thousand responses globally, including from Jamaica, over the period 2005-2011.
In the Gallup World Poll, respondents were asked (using fresh annual samples of 1,000 persons, aged 15 and over, in each of more than 150 countries) to evaluate the quality of their lives on an 11-point ladder or scale running from zero to 10, with zero meaning they were least happy.
Higher income did not necessarily equate to happiness, noted the researchers, referencing the US which ranked 11th, just ahead of Costa Rica, the happiest developing nation.
"Higher average incomes do not necessarily improve average well-being, the US being a clear case in point," said the report, adding that the tripling of US gross national product since the 1960s was met with average happiness remaining essentially unchanged over the half-century.
"The increased US output has caused massive environmental damage, notably through greenhouse gas concentrations and human-induced climate change, without doing much at all to raise the well-being even of Americans," the report said.
"Thus, we don't have a tradeoff between short-run gains to well-being versus long-run costs to the environment. We have a pure loss to the environment without offsetting short-term gains," added the report.
The report has pointed to the increased importance of happiness in economic and sustainable development.
More on happiness in The Gleaner

That happiness index

Not everyone greeted the news with snickers. Some guffawed. Jamaica the third happiest country in the world? As much as we'd like to take pride in that, it's a bit hard to believe that happy, smiling folk would also top the league tables for killing each other.
The thing is, it is not a happiness index; it is the happy planet index. Put out by London'sNew Economics Foundation - a quirky think tank which, nonetheless, has its heart in the right place - the index is principally concerned with sustainability. The logic is thatcountries which are developing, without leaving too large an ecological footprint, create a happier planet.
Therefore, because it's a truism that the higher a country's per capita income, the greater its per capita resource consumption and carbon footprint will tend to be, Jamaica's low rate of growth over the last generation means we will show up as producing a more sustainable model. We may not be the world's third happiest people; but we're third kindest to the planet.
The report measures development as a combination of life expectancy and lifesatisfaction: the more years a country's citizens live (on average), and the happier each of those years, the more developed a country. As for sustainability, the foundation estimates ecological footprint as a combination of resource consumption and pollution output.
Jamaica's performance is skewed by the fact that we outperform when it comes to life expectancy. The fact that, on that score, we are a Third-World country performing at a First-World standard is alone something to boast about. It reflects the legacies of decisions taken by previous generations of leaders, from creating a fine medical school to prioritising public health - something which was given especial importance in the 1970s.
However, when it comes to life satisfaction, Jamaica doesn't show up as well. We top the happy planet index because of our long life expectancy, but low resource consumption skews the result. And here, the authors of the report acknowledge one of development's dilemmas. Although diminishing returns begin to set in as a country rises from being a middle-income to a high-income one, the fact remains that the correlation between per capita income and life satisfaction remains high.
On average, rising incomes mean happier people, at least to a point. Therefore, happier people mean a less happy planet. Sustainable development is about trying to strike a balance. But the notion that is propounded in some circles, that we can both grow and reduce our demands on the planet's scarce resources, has yet to be borne out by the evidence. Future technological breakthroughs may make that possible. But it hasn't happened yet.
At the end of the day, if poor countries like Jamaica are going to raise the aggregate happiness of their citizens, they will have to raise their incomes. And if we are going to do that without putting an undue burden on the planet, other countries with higher per capita incomes will probably have to reduce their consumption.
Equal income levels
In the long run, it may well be that the model of endlessly rising incomes has to be terminated; that the only way to ensure sustainable development will be for all of us to live on relatively moderate, equal income levels. As the world's leaders prepare for the climate summit later this year in Copenhagen, that is something to reflect upon.
For we are still trying to eat our cake and have it. Sustainable development, like the growth which underpins it, is all about trade-offs. Jamaicans understand the difficulty of a trade-off between happy people and a happy planet better than anyone.
John Rapley is president of the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI), an independent research think tank affiliated with the University of the West Indies, Mona. Feedback may be sent to