Measuring Happiness Against Economic Growth

Posted on February 4, 2022

My dad gets delivered the New Scientist magazine every week. It keeps his 89-year-old brain chugging along and stops it from getting lazy. He then hands them down to me to try and get my woeful scientific brain out of neutral and into first gear.

Science fascinates me but I am not very good at it. I read some articles and my brain is saying, “Yep, yep…getting it…yep…yep…oh fuck, it’s gone!”. The best way to explain it is to imagine me doing one of those things that were all the rage in Sunday magazines in the 1990s.

You would have to stick your nose onto a kaleidoscope of colour, then move the magazine away to reveal a tiger in the jungle (or something familiar). I never finished one. I would just about see an ear or an eye, then the little devil in my brain would gate-crash the party and ruin everything.

Happiness Pursuit

Anyway, I keep trying and I do find some good stuff in the New Scientist. One such article appeared on the 22nd of January edition. It was titled ‘The Pursuit of Happiness’. This fascinated me because we go through life forever surprised at what makes us feel good and what drags us down.

I won’t go into full detail about the world happiness report as it is a complex study. However, there are aspects of it that are so simple even I can follow them. Take the country of Finland for example. We are led to believe that Finland is a cold dark place where everyone lives life like a Nordic Noir Drama, committing suicide or lopping each other’s heads off. Yet, for the fourth year running, it has ranked number one out of 150 nations, for happiness.

Scandanavia and India

Paradoxically, this has happened whilst the Finnish economy has flatlined. At the same time, in India, where economic growth has doubled and doubled again since 2006, happiness is declining. This demonstrates that GDP is not the be-all and end-all when it comes to contentment. People are becoming increasingly aware of the false narrative that GDP means happiness. This is not good news for those who control wealth.

When we look to Scandinavian countries, wealth is distributed evenly across society, creating excellent health, education, and care services. This, in turn, creates a positive relationship between governments and the people, resulting in trust and a willingness to pay higher taxes. It’s kind of obvious really, yet other nations are not following suit with the gusto you would expect.

The US and the UK

Take the USA for example. They have wealth and plenty of it. However, what is striking, is that virtually all the wealth goes to just 10% of the population. The rest are left without a decent education, healthcare, or a welfare safety net. The result is perpetual civil unrest, high school shootings, and general descent into chaos.

The US despite being the richest economy in the world is lagging in 19th place for happiness. Just two places ahead of it is the UK. We are the 6th largest economy in the world. The UK is a better place to be than the US, with free healthcare (for now) but a faltering education and welfare system. Once again, the majority of the wealth is landing in the pockets of a privileged few (many who are in government) with the rest of us fighting for the little that has trickled down.

Obsession With Consumerism

The other thing that studies of social capital have shown is this. In countries obsessed with economic growth, GDP can only be driven by consumerism. Increased consumerism can cause people to work longer hours to buy the objects they are told they need. This then leads to being more focused on keeping up with consumerism than maintaining relationships. A lack of social connection can harm our health as much as 15 cigarettes a day.

I have just touched on the basics of the article as it is spread over five pages. There are many factors to happiness, but one thing is now more or less certain. GDP, no matter how much we are told, isn’t one of them. It is also categorically clear that the wealth of a country will only create a happy and more united system if it is spread evenly across society.

This begs a question. Why aren’t governments across the globe implementing these Scandinavian social democratic economic models as a form of leveling up? I’ll let the readers of this blog come to their own conclusion, but I will tell you one thing.

The study may have been in the New Scientist magazine, but you don’t need to be a Rocket Scientist to work it out. The super-wealthy don’t go into politics to create a fairer, happier society.

Have a good weekend.

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