Happiness = Development: Don’t worry, be happy says China

On 17th March 2011, The Economist produced an article discussing one of China’s new mantra’s, ‘Don’t worry, be happy’.

The article in the economist can be viewed here: China: Don’t Worry be happy

This  article outlines new plans by the Chinese government to increase the GDP over the coming years. It states:

“Increasing happiness, officials now insist, is more important than increasing GDP. A new five-year plan adopted at the meeting has been hailed as a blueprint for a “happy China”. The prime minister, Wen Jiabao, however, appeared downright miserable as he described the challenges he faces.”

I am all for creating a happy world full of happy people. The R.E.M. song, ‘Shiny Happy People’ springs to mind:

However, as a government policy, will focusing efforts on ensuring happiness of the population really affect the GDP. It sounds like a nice idea.

The Chinese economy, valued at $5.8 trillion at the end of 2010 has overaken Japan ($5.4 trillion) to become the world’s second largest economy. China is now aiming for 7% annual growth in GDP between 2011 and 2015. As part of the plan to increase GDP, the idea has been generated by the Communist Party branch based in Guangdong province, to focus on creating a ‘Happy Guangdong’ in following years. The idea behind this is that a happy population is likely to generate faster growth in GDP.

The Guardian has also covered this development in China: Be Happy says Chinese province in new five-year plan

Now how exactly do you ensure that a population is happy, and how on earth do you measure it? You can’t simply go around every household and simply ask, are you happy?

Perhaps they can use a measurement called GNH or Gross National Happiness, as opposed to GDP Gross Domestic Product. The GNH index, developed by the Prime Minister of Bhutan in 2008 is calculated using a variety of indicators related to education, psychological wellbeing, environment, health, living standards, governance and culture. Bhutan took the GNH index into account when formulating national policies. A result of this was to cap the number of tourists visiting the country annual as a way to limit environmental and social impacts on the population. Bhutan’s GDP remains relatively low in global standards at around ($2,000) but is considered by some as one of the happiest nations in the world.

China Daily has reported results on a happiness survey results generated by the information portal china.com.cn after surveying about 1,350 web users. They revealed that 6% of people considered themselves as happy, while 36% felt their happiness had improved in the last five years. Furthermore, around 40% of Chinese believe happiness is determined by the wealth. In which case, it could become a bit of a vicious circle if the Chinese government want people to be happy to generate growth in wealth, but a large proportion of Chinese people need money to be happy. This could be a long process.

A government who puts the happiness of its people as a high priority sounds like a very utopian idea. Shouldn’t all governments want its people to be happy? Perhaps not. Some governments want people to pay their taxes and get on with it.

I hope they do create a happy province in China, and I will be interested to see how they go about doing it.

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