Genuine well being for ourselves and the planet

Posts tagged ‘GDP’

United in Our Unhappiness; United in Our Solution?

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Ginny Sassaman, President of GNHUSA, talking about Truth in Governance at the Montpelier, VT Truth in Government Rally, 6/3/17

One of the great benefits of the way I experience grief is, my house gets cleaner. The news of the United Airways/Chicago police assault of an innocent passenger who just wanted to get home and to take care of his patients hit me hard.  So out came the broom, off of the bed came the sheets — sweeping, mopping, while my brain and heart tried to process what had happened and why it filled me with such sorrow.  In part, it’s an issue of trust. Can we trust the policymakers who exert so much control over our lives — including corporate policymakers — to prioritize our collective well being and happiness in their decision making process? The answer that day was, no: dollars matter more than people.

That incident was on my mind a few weeks later as I prepared my remarks for the March for Truth rally in Montpelier, Vermont on June 3, 2017.  Although Gross National Happiness USA decided not to co-sponsor the event due to its appearance of partisanship, as President of GNHUSA, I was eager to speak out about trust in governance. Not only is it one of the nine domains of happiness within the GNH framework, lack of trust in governance is a commonality across the political spectrum. Similarly, coming together to increase trust in governance by adopting a non-partisan GNH approach to community well being could be a shared path to happiness.

And so I addressed the rally. It was my first time speaking at such an event and I was a little nervous. There’s a video of my remarks, or, you can read here what I had to say:

“I want to do five things in my brief remarks:  1) broaden the concepts we’re discussing today; 2) share what this has to do with happiness; 3) step away from partisanship; 4) look briefly at the nub of the problem; and 5) share a long term solution.

First, from a GNH perspective, we look at the issue not just as truth in government but as trust in governance, including corporate decisions which can have a major impact on our well being. We should trust, for example, that when we pay hundreds of dollars for an airline ticket, we won’t get dragged off that plane by police because the flight is overbooked.

Obviously policies like that, and lies and deception from elected officials, make us unhappy. That’s why we’re here today. But there is also research. Gross National Happiness is a data-driven approach. Data found nine key areas where governments can create conditions that make us much happier or much less happy. One of those is trust in governance.

Year of Living DanishlyIn fact, Helen Russell reported in her book, The Year of Living Danishly, that trust in governance is one of the most important reasons Denmark consistently ranks as a very happy country.

We also have data for this country, and Vermont. Vermonters rate trust in governance as one of our least happy domains, at least one it comes to federal governance.

Throughout America, red state, blue, or purple. there is deep distrust of governance. We don’t necessarily distrust the same officials or believe the same “truths,” but this is a non-partisan commonality. Trust in governance could be a unifying principle. It could bring us together.

So why such untrustworthy behavior? No doubt one reason is greed, which may be innate. I think think the real villain is the GDP-driven growth economy which demands greed for money and material goods, sometimes in the name of happiness. But it doesn’t work. Over the last couple of decades, the GDP has risen but happiness has flat-lined. You know what has risen? Suicide rates. For all age groups.

It’s time to be greedy for happiness.*

Unlike the very narrow GDP goal posts of success, a GNH framework is comprehensive and inclusive. The idea is, you run policy decisions through a matrix to determine impact on the environment, equality, health, education and more — all the things that make us truly and collectively happy and well. Then, with holistic data, you can make the right choices.

In 1968, during his ill-fated presidential campaign, Bobby Kennedy said of the GDP, it measures everything “except that which makes life worth while.” It’s just plain wrong, that that’s how we make policy!

A government that took the people’s right to pursue happiness seriously; governance based on well being for all people — including future generations, and animals, and the planet; a government that valued those things which make life worth while — that would be trustworthy governance.

I invite you to join the happiness movement by signing our Charter for Happiness at GNHUSA.org.

Thank you.”

* This is the line that got the most applause!

 

 

 

 

 

Is Happiness Escapist?

Is happiness escapist?

This question, which came up at a happiness workshop on a lovely Sunday afternoon in Vermont a little over 24 hours before Super Storm Sandy hit the U.S.,  carried extra weight in the following days as we witnessed the storm’s massive destruction and personal tragedies.  Most painful was the news about a Staten Island woman whose two young sons were swept from her arms by powerful waves as she tried to carry them to safety.  Both little boys drowned.  I cried at her despair.

Even worse, though, is the foreboding I feel.  I know I am not alone in believing Sandy is the new “normal.”  I suspect there will be many more neighborhoods aflame, beautiful beaches and treasured covered bridges washed away, and toddlers dying.

And, we all have our normal garden variety of suffering to deal with: aging, failing bodies; money worries; heartbreak from our own and others’ failings; and, ultimately, death.  For all of us.

In fact, I’m feeling a little sad while I write this blog.  Yet, on both a micro and macro level, my answer to the title question is a resounding no.   Quite the opposite, really.  For me, cultivating happiness, positivity, and well being is a moral imperative on both the big systemic and deeply personal levels.

Some of the water jugs we had filled in case Sandy knocked out our power for an extended time.

Why?  Most urgently, because, on both a personal and societal level we are chasing the wrong goals: money and material success.  I know that is not all that many of us seek.  We are also spiritual beings, who treasure and nourish relationships and the opportunity to do good and to create.  And we are physical creatures, who dance and have sex and go to yoga class. Nonetheless, because our economy is fixated on growth, the pressure on us to buy and spend is enormous.  The resulting consumerism is trashing the environment.

To begin to ameliorate the insidious, unpredictable effects of climate change, we must reject the sacred cow of a growth economy.  Equally, we must understand that a rising Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is not a valid  indicator of a flourishing society.  This is not a new idea; Bobby Kennedy eloquently articulated the flaws of GDP way back in 1968.  I’ve watched a video of his GDP speech many, many times and it still moves me to tears.  Today, viewing it again, I want to add “the ravages of a hurricane” to RFK’s list of what contributes to a “healthy” GDP.

One other quick primer on how destructive consumerism is:  “The Story of Stuff.”  If you haven’t watched it yet, I highly recommend investing the 20+ minutes this smart, sassy video lasts.  And, BTW, happier people shop less.

But what will take the place of a growth economy, consumerism, and GDP? Something needs to fill the vacuum.  That something should be a Gross National Happiness (GNH) paradigm — or, in more politically palatable terms, the genuine well being of people and the planet.  Systemically, embracing happiness is embracing a sustainable future.

On the personal level, first of all, I have to question what good it does anybody for me, or you, to be unhappy?  How is that going to help fix anything?

But it’s not just me.  Sages from across the millenia — the Dalai Lama and Aristotle, for example — say that happiness is what all humans desire.  The Dalai Lama has also written that whenever we interact with another person, we can add either to that individual’s happiness or to their unhappiness.  Thanks to mirror neurons, we are much more likely to boost another’s spirits if we ourselves are in a happier place.

When I was at the national happiness conference in Seattle in August, I learned a simple but profound exercise from Scott Crabtree, proprietor of “Happy Brain Science.”  Scott divided the group into paired-up “A’s” and “B’s” and then instructed the “A’s” to maintain sober facial expressions while looking at the “B’s” who were instructed to smile, smile, smile at their partners.  You can guess, it is just impossible to not smile back!

Of course, I am not recommending fake cheeriness or inauthentic saccharine behavior.  What I am suggesting is, as Christine Carter puts it in Raising Happiness, that we need to “put on our own oxygen masks first” when it comes to helping others be happier.

Thanks to positive psychology research and multiple other studies on human behavior, we now know that nurturing happiness builds our own ability to respond to crises and to serving others in their moments of need.  Positivity breeds greater resilience, and the ability to see and appreciate silver linings.  Happier people are kinder — and kinder people are happier.  Happiness is also good for our health, and, damn, sometimes we need to be strong and healthy to fight the good fight!

Another powerful argument for strengthening our happiness muscles is the value of mindfulness.  Taking time to meditate and build personal awareness is one of the most important happiness strategies any of us can adopt.  With mindfulness comes greater compassion (for ourselves and others), more inner peace, less stress — and, the ability to make better decisions.  “To lead a happy life, we need to make good choices,” write father and son happiness mavens Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener, “and this involves the recognition that problems arise, even in good circumstances”  (Understanding True Wealth, p. 18).

The circumstances in North Central Vermont were very good indeed — a sunny, warm, late autumn day — as Sandy was headed our way.  Even way up here, we were warned of very high winds and the likelihood of losing power.  It was time for mindfulness and good decisions: after watching Tropical Storm Irene devastate much of Vermont last year, we knew that if the power went out, it could stay out for a long, long time.  Our wood stove and gas range meant we could stay warm and cook hot meals.  But our well needs electricity to work, so we stockpiled pitchers, jars, trash cans, and bottles of water to drink, clean, take care of the baby, and flush the toilets.

The storm wobbled a bit to the west and we never needed all that extra water.  But the threat was — and is — quite real.  My sister Peggy in New Jersey is now in Day 8 of no power, no heat, no water.  It is, she says, “the pits.” I can’t regret for a moment my choices to stockpile water; I am grateful for mindfulness and the awareness to “be prepared.”  (After all, I was once a Girl Scout!)

Diener and Biswas-Diener also observe, “challenges look easier when you are happy.”   I’ll tell you something else that makes my challenges look easier: coffee!   I don’t drink a lot, but, oh, that first cup in the morning is a savoring experience every single day.  During our preparations for Sandy, I became very mindful that I had wholly inadequate coffee preparations.  Next time, I will make even better choices, stocking up on coffee (ground!) as well as water.

That’s not a moral imperative, of course — but, it will help me keep smiling!