Measuring Happiness

October 6, 2005

I've been without my iMac for almost a week now, which does not make me happy. The pleasure I derive from owning an Apple iMac has nothing to do with the money spent and everything to do with the quality of experience I receive. Similarly, I am far happier in my job now than I was at my last job in Austin — and this has everything to do with the kind and quality of work I do and the atmosphere it is in. The fact that moving from non-profit to for-profit raised my salary has little to no influence on my job satisfaction. And yet the government measures my "well-being" in purely economic terms — purely financial terms. What gives? Thankfully, some folks are working to measure the "softer" side of life.

This NY Times article starts us out in the wee Buddhist nation of Bhutan, northeast of India, and moves on to Princeton, Britain, Canada, and elsewhere. It tells of attempts at measuring "gross national happines," an "index of well-being," and "sustainable development indicators" — all of which are intended to look at why some people are satisfied than others, even than those who are richer. It is a fascinating look at this new movement, and an implicit acknowledgment of the spiritual (non-material) nature of humanity.

In a somewhat related move, the International Finance Corporation (an arm of the World bank) is developing new policies for evaluating the social and environmental impact of their loan and equity programs for 3rd world development. About time they recognized the impact that ecoystem detioriation can have on future development. All the development in the world meant nothing for New Orleans and Gulfport, partially due to the fact that we've ruined the wetlands outside these cities and their states. These wetlands serve as a buffer to hurricane winds, but are too diminished to have had much of an impact on Katrina.