The public management of happiness

… an Atlas blog post

Leslie A. Pal, 12 March 2013

Happiness is not usually associated with public management, but it has become a big deal recently. The OECD has been working away at its How’s Life research for almost a decade. When he was President of France, Nicholas Sarkozy commissioned a Report on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, headed by a committee consisting of Joseph Stiglitz, Amartya Sen, and Jean-Paul Fitoussi (I don’t know him either, so no worries).

The policy explanation for this is that GDP is a poor measure of well-being. You can have high GDP, but unhappy people. That seems to be the case in Singapore. A just published book explores the issue − Siok Kuan TAMBYAH and Soo Jiuan TAN, Happiness and Wellbeing: A Singaporean Experience. There is even a Happy Planet Index that claims that Singapore ranks behind Ghana, Cambodia and Lebanon. Canada does not even make it into the top 50, and ranks behind Myanmar, which I recently visited. I think this says more about the index and the measurement than it does about actual happiness.

I think that there are a few significant things going on here. First, the quest in our obviously depressed and strapped days, for a higher calling in public management – not just the creation of concentrated wealth but something more ineffable and uplifting – happiness. Second, the insatiable appetite for measures and metrics. The younger readers of this blog are so used to oceans of data and information that they will not appreciate what has changed with the digitization of all information in the last decade. Everything is out there, and everything can be measured in some way if one wishes. Third, happiness has become a serious and somewhat humourless industry.

There is hope for a public management of happiness. Bhutan is a poster child of the movement, having officially pursued a policy around the measure of Gross Domestic Happiness (GDH). I go there next month to investigate.

Image: Anthony Robbins Blog at /2081/ the-one-and-only-thing-you-need-to-be-happy/, accessed 12 March 2013.