Re-perceiving Happiness

“It is high time we admitted that, taken on its own, GDP is an incomplete way of measuring a country’s progress.”

- UK Prime Minister, David Cameron

The rise of Post Materialism is set to transform the Australian economy.

During the ascension and eventual dominance of Materialistic values over the past forty years, millions of Australians have directed their focus towards the pursuit of visible economic achievement. Happiness, we were told, came in the form of a 42-inch plasma screen.

This desire for bigger, brighter, newer, faster material possessions has had the greatest impact across every industry in this country.

However, with the economic goals of many now being satisfied, more Australians are set to adopt a Post Materialistic outlook, placing greater emphasis on lifestyle and quality of life, as experiences overtake possessions as desired collectibles.

And if Australians increasingly move beyond material possessions as the symbol of status or success, then the nation will need to broaden its measurement of what constitutes social well-being and progress. Further indicators beyond mere economic transactions or GDP will need to be developed.

This is where the growing interest in quality of life and happiness measures will play a role. Gross National Happiness has been established in the Kingdom of Bhutan for a number of years, where it was perhaps too easily dismissed as a radical or fringe idea. However, the recent embracing of the concept of national happiness by the British government shows that there is a growing discomfort within Western societies with our absolute focus on economic measures.

Every paradigm or system obviously contains ‘true’ or positive components – they have to, otherwise why would we be attracted to them? On the flipside, every system also contains ‘false’ or negative components, and it’s the rising awareness of the ‘false’ components of Materialism (Stress, Debt, Time Poverty, Inequality, Mental Health, etc.) that has people convinced ‘there must be a better way’.

This is the context that will lead people towards Post Materialism and towards alternate measures of social progress.

Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index measures progress in 9 dimensions: standard of living, good governance, health, education, community vitality, environmental resilience, cultural diversity, balanced time use and psychological well-being.

Whether Gross National Happiness is the absolute answer, only time will tell, however, what is certain is that broader measures of success and progress will receive greater attention as Post Materialistic values rise.

As a weak pointer to the growing interest in lifestyle and happiness, the campaign Buy Nothing New in October is worth monitoring. The campaign kicked off in 2010 in partnership with Salvos Stores and encourages people to resist buying anything new in the month of October except necessities. According to Salvos Stores Sustainability Manager, Donald Munro:

“Buy Nothing New reflects a growing movement of people switching off from shopping and tuning into life.”

According to the ‘S-Curve’ theory of social change, the Gross National Happiness movement remains in its embryonic stages, however perhaps it is an idea whose time has come. As Post Materialistic values rise, and per capita consumption declines, Governments will seek alternate measurements of national progress to convince the public they’re doing a good job.

These are the circumstances than can see an idea move in from the fringe very quickly!


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