Several articles have been written about the UN meeting on GNH.

Here’s a sample:

    *  Bhutan calls for a mindful revolution at the United Nations

                    Lester Kurtz -- George Mason University Professor

    * The UN Embraces the Economics of Happiness

      by Laura Musikanski

Leaders from around the world want well-being—not gross national product—to guide our economic decisions.

Denmark and other Scandinavian countries—which boast, among other things, strong social safety nets, shorter-than-average work weeks, and high rates of non-motorized transit—frequently top lists of the world's happiest countries.

Photo by Eddie Codel

Imagine you open the paper tomorrow, and the headlines are not about the “sluggish economy,” but our nation’s quality of life. You turn to the business section, and find not just information about a certain company’s profitability, but also about its impact on community health and employee well-being.

Imagine, in short, a world where the metric that guides our decisions is not money, but happiness.

That is the future that 650 political, academic, and civic leaders from around the world came together to promote on April 2, 2012. Encouraged by the government of Bhutan, the United Nations held a High Level Meeting for Wellbeing and Happiness: Defining a New Economic Paradigm. The meeting marks the launch of a global movement to shift our focus away from measuring and promoting economic growth as a goal in its own right, and toward the goal of measuring—and increasing—human happiness and quality of life.

Not just for dreamers

Some may say these 650 world leaders are dreamers, but they are the sort that can make dreams come true. The meeting began with an address by Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley of Bhutan, where the government tracks the nation’s “Gross National Happiness”:

The time has come for global action to build a new world economic system that is no longer based on the illusion that limitless growth is possible on our precious and finite planet or that endless material gain promotes well-being. Instead, it will be a system that promotes harmony and respect for nature and for each other; that respects our ancient wisdom traditions and protects our most vulnerable people as our own family, and that gives us time to live and enjoy our lives and to appreciate rather than destroy our world. It will be an economic system, in short, that is fully sustainable and that is rooted in true, abiding well-being and happiness.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon cited Aristotle and Buddha in calling for the replacement of our current economic system with one based on happiness, well-being, and compassion. “Social, economic, and environmental well-being are indivisible” he said. 

We've forgotten a lot of what we used to know about happiness.

 President Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica followed with a keynote speech that provided an explanation of why her country is one of the worlds most eco-friendly and happy nations, despite its relative poverty. Decades ago, Costa Rica eliminated its army, prioritizing spending on a strong education program, support for social security, and the protection of national parks that spur tourism.

From Finland to France, Israel to India, speakers of parliament, ministers of the environment, and other high-level officials followed with brief speeches about the need for a new economic paradigm to replace the current economy. The afternoon featured Vandana Shiva, Martin Seligman, John Helliwell, Lord Richard Layard, Jeffrey Sachs and other luminaries.

Helliwell, Layard and Sachs introduced the World Happiness Report, a study they prepared for the conference. The report found that money and economic growth have a relatively weak correlation to happiness; happiness is much more strongly associated with things like community engagement, having lots of friends, doing work you love, and feeling a sense of trust in others. Altruism, too, is essential; a world that makes equity, care, and compassion more possible will be a happier world. As the authors write:

The realities of poverty, anxiety, environmental degradation, and unhappiness in the midst of great plenty should not be regarded as mere curiosities. They require our urgent attention, and especially so at this juncture in human history. …if we act wisely, we can protect the Earth while raising quality of life broadly around the world. We can do this by adopting lifestyles and technologies that improve happiness (or life satisfaction) while reducing human damage to the environment.

Over the next two days, more than 200 people stayed to participate in working groups to discuss turning global happiness metrics into a reality. They presented their recommendations on the third day. These included plans for an inclusive movement, forging communication material for all audiences, collaborative development of the metrics for happiness, the formation of a UN happiness commission, and the inclusion of happiness and well-being as a UN Millennium Development Goal.

The meeting ended with a presentation by Susan Andrews, who is developing a metric for measuring well-being in Brazil. Brazilian youth, she explained, had been trained to conduct happiness surveys and taught to practice altruism and compassion. Neighbors had at first rejected the youth, but later embraced their efforts to measure the happiness of their community. The project culminated in the creation of community-based activities that are changing neighborhoods for the better.

Progress in the United States

Noticeably absent from the meeting were high-level officials from the United States. But that does not mean that nothing is happening here.

The Department of Housing and Human Services has convened a panel of experts in psychology and economics to figure out ways to reliably measure subjective well-being—a move toward government tracking and analysys of happiness statistics.

But some cities are beating HHS to the punch, using a survey developed by The Happiness Initiative, a U.S.-based nonprofit, which offers a subjective metric for happiness that can be used at a personal or community level.

In Nevada City, California, the city council is using the happiness index to gather data about people’s needs and preferences for a land development decision. In Eau Claire, Wisconsin, the city government is working with a local chamber of commerce, state university, boys and girls club, library, and other organizations to gather data and convene town meetings where residents can discuss ways to promote quality of life.

The time has come for global action to build a new world economic system that is no longer based on the illusion that limitless growth is possible on our precious and finite planet.

In Seattle, Wash., more than 2,500 people have taken the survey, providing data for a city report card—including many members of the city’s Oromo, Somali, Filipino, and Vietnamese communities, thanks to local immigrant organizations working to measure the well-being of their people. The results, they hope, will help the city think more strategically about promoting social justice; the community organizations are also using them to identify and ameliorate problems within immigrant populations. Vietnamese youth, for example, scored low on sense of community and trust in government, so the Vietnamese Friendship Association (VFA) helped them host a “Spring Off,” bringing people together to make spring rolls—but also to reduce isolation and create a feeling of empowerment.

“The project was wonderful in the context of working with our youth council,” says James Hong , Director of Youth and Community Engagement for VFA. It gave them the opportunity to get them involved at every level, which is rare. They were able to conduct the survey, reflect upon the results, decide on a project and then coordinate it all themselves. We want to continue using this model for youth council. There was so much learning and it was all very valuable.”

Nationally, more than 40,000 people have taken the happiness survey and received their own personal assessments of well-being. One woman, a New Yorker, said, “I thought my life was going pretty well. After all, I make a lot of money. But after taking the survey, I saw my low scores in community and culture, and this led me to think about what really matters to me.”

The global happiness movement may seem like a dream today, but it is a dream that is becoming reality.

Laura Musikanski wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Laura is co-founder and director of the Happiness Initiative and the former director of Sustainable Seattle. She is a lawyer with an MBA and certificates in Environmental Management and Environmental Law and Regulations from the University of Washington.

A Press Release written during the event:

        UN Meeting on Happiness & Well-Being:

        Developing a New Economic Paradigm

        New York City - April 2 - 4, 2012

The high-level meeting on “Happiness and Well Being: Defining A New Economic Paradigm” convened by the Royal Government of Bhutan on April 2 at United Nations headquarters in New York City took a major step towards a sustainable, holistic, inclusive, and equitable new economic development paradigm for the global community.

The conference was attended by about 700 political and government leaders, scholars, economists, philosophers, scientists, media, civil society, UN officials, entrepreneurs, and spiritual leaders from the world’s major faiths. Two hundred participants continued intensive discussions on April 3 and 4 to work out details of the goals of the conference: to submit a report  to the Secretary General of the United Nations for distribution to all UN member states; to distribute a set of recommendations for national economic policies, based on happiness and well being, to all heads of government around the world; to draft a new development paradigm to be submitted to the UN General Assembly next year; and to build a global movement and design a communications strategy to enhance the global understanding of well-being and happiness and advance the new economic paradigm.

The conference proposed that the Bhutanese Prime Minister, Jigmi Yoezer Thinley, convene a commission of experts to expand on the dimensions of the new economy. The Prime Minister will also present the report of the conference at the Rio+20 United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development, to be held in Brazil in June of this year.

“A great beginning has been made but it is the end that we must strive for,” Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley said at the conclusion of the three-day discussions. “I hope that by 2015 the international community will have adopted a sustainability-based economic paradigm committed to promoting true human well-being and happiness, and ensuring, at the same time,, the survival of all species with  which we share this planet.”

Inspired by the Bhutanese development philosophy of Gross National Happiness, the April 2 conference was a follow up to the 2011 United Nations Resolution that invited member countries “to pursue the elaboration of additional measures that better capture the importance of the pursuit of happiness and well-being in development with a view to guiding their public policies”.  The resolution was co-sponsored by 68 countries and endorsed by all the member nations of the United Nations.

“Gross National Product has long been the yardstick by which economies and politicians have been measured,” said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, when he inaugurated the conference. “Yet it fails to take into account the social and environmental costs of so-called progress. Bhutan recognized the supremacy of national happiness over national income in the early 1970s.”

Among the U.N. leadership and representatives of governments were the President of the 66th Session of the UN General Assembly, Mr. Nassir Abdul Aziz Al-Nasser; President of the Economic and Social Council, Mr. Miloš Koterec ; and the UNDP Administrator, Ms. Helen Clark, who chaired the opening session. High-level representatives of governments around the world addressed the conference, with the keynote address given by Ms. Laura Chinchilla, President of the Republic of Costa Rica, a country which is universally recognized for its outstanding achievements in environmental conservation and its exemplary sustainable development record.

Ms. Chinchilla said that there were many paths to happiness. “Human history, as well as current realities, teaches us that the paths to well-being are deeply connected to the respect for dignity, and the creation of opportunities to freely pursue our full and harmonious realization as part of the natural and social milieu,” she said. “But the more global initiative, unanimously embraced by the United Nations, is the one launched by Bhutan. It is thanks to this initiative that we have met today, in this house of all the people of the United Nations, and from now on we will be players in its evolution.””

Representing the Prime Minister of India, the Minister of State for Environment and Forests, Mrs. Jayanthi Natarajan, thanked Bhutan for bringing happiness to the discourse on sustainable development. “We share your belief that human development should be based in equal measure on material progress, social inclusion, cultural life and living in harmony with nature,” she said. “Our religious traditions,traditions and philosophies have all taught us to look for inner peace and happiness as the ultimate objective.”

The conference focused on a new economic paradigm in a perspective of four dimensions with well-being and happiness as the accepted purpose of development. “I believe that the majority of people around the world today are contemplating the issue of the soundness of the present way of life and the need for a different way of life,” said Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley. “They are seeking a way of life that is more meaningful, sustainable, just and equitable, a way of life that will lead each of us to an ultimate goal,goal, and that is happiness.”

Expert panelists spoke on strategies to reach this goal. Professor Robert Costanza, Distinguished University Professor of Sustainability at Portland State University, and Editor-in-Chief of Solutions magazine, pointed out that there had been dramatic changes in the world. “We no longer live in a relatively empty world,” he said. “We live in a whole new geologic era. We’ve also framed this issue in a very negative way. We need a better way of integrating these different perspectives. We’re also learning that complex systems behave in complex ways. We can’t expect things to behave smoothly… And the basic point here is that sustainable human happiness requires a healthy ecological life system, so I think that’s one of the primary building blocks of a sustainable and desirable future."

Ms. Michelle Bachelet, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, and the Former President of the Republic of Chile, said that the goal of human well-being must include all of humanity - women and men, girls and boys. “When I’m talking about inclusiveness, I’m talking about what is the kind of world we are dealing with today where, out of seven billion people 5.1 billion, or 75% of the world, are not covered with any minimal social security - a world that is so high in inequalities,” she said. "We need ethical leadership that can ensure fair distribution that is demanded everywhere, by those who are crying and asking for freedom and social justice in their world… so we need leadership to uproot greed, corruption, and repression.”

Professor Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Laureate and Professor of Economics, Columbia University, said that efficient use of resources was critical. “What we measure affects what we do, and the reason for creating better metrics is to affect our policy, and that's why it's so important what Bhutan has done - Gross National Happiness - it really does change policy frameworks,” he said. “We have to be very conscious that people in our society, different people are experiencing different things, and our commitment to equitable development means that we have to focus on the experiences not of the average but on what’s happening to all of our citizens, including those at the bottom and middle.” 

While panelists focused on the dimensions of the new economic paradigm, the conference heard impassioned statements by personalities known for seminal academic work and thinking on happiness, well-being, sustainability, the economy and spiritual traditions. The Venerable Matthieu Ricard, Buddhist scholar, of the Shechen Monastery, Nepal, emphasized the importance of mind training and interpretation of happiness as a skill. “In the end, it is our mind that translates the outer conditions into either genuine happiness or misery,” he explained. “It is our mind that we deal with from morning till evening. It is our minds that can be our best friends, our worst enemy. So we should not underestimate the power of mind to conjour happiness or suffering. Happiness is a way of being that comes with genuine altruistic love and, serenity, which, that can be cultivated as a skill day after day, month after month.”

On April 1, 2012, one A day before the conference the Earth Institute at Columbia University hosted a meeting of about 100 academics, scientists, and philosophers, including four Nobel Laureates, and unveiled the “World Happiness Report”. The report presents methodological tools, assessment procedures, and scientific support for the measurement of happiness as a development indicator and also grades the countries of the world on these new dimensions.

According to Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, large-scale collection of happiness data will improve macroeconomic policy-making and can inform service delivery. “Four steps to improve policy-making are the measurement of happiness, explanation of happiness, putting happiness at the centre of analysis, and translation of well-being research into design and delivery of services,” he said.

Among the distinguished spiritual leaders were Abbot Roshi Joan Halifax, Venerable Matthieu Ricard, Swami Atmapriyananda, Rabbi Awarham Soetendorp, Kalsang Gyaltsen, Jane Carpenter, Ken Kitatani, and others, who addressed the conference on the importance of well-being and happiness from spiritual perspectives, and led the gathering in silent meditation and prayer.

The United Nations Conference on Well-being and Happiness was watched by several million people through conventional and social media that allowed both images and sounds of the visibly enthusiastic media to be picked up by the digital world..

The Bhutanese delegates at the conference said that the global response was overwhelming and that the expectations of the global community were somewhat intimidating and also inspiring for Bhutan.

For Further Details, Please Contact:

Sonam Tobgay

The Permanent Mission of Bhutan

Tel: 1-646-705-2313