What is Happiness Worth?

(Photo: ©Glowimages/Stock Photo)
(Photo: ©Glowimages/Stock Photo)

What if we ranked nations by their “gross national happiness” instead of their gross national product?

That’s how the country of Bhutan has measured itself since the early 1970’s.

If you live in Michigan, as I do, where we still have snow on the ground, snow in the air at times, and it’s just plain cold out – where there’s still talk about winter blues and we wonder when spring weather will finally show up – it might seem strange to find out that yesterday – March 20 – was both the first day of spring and International Day of Happiness!

A Detroit Free Press article observed that some people think the United Nations has more important things to draw attention to than this. On the other hand, the U.N. Secretary-General spoke about helping others and contributing to the common good – of the need for a new economic paradigm in which “social, economic and environmental well-being are indivisible.”

So what does happiness have to do with well-being? A research paper¹ by Dutch sociologist Ruut Veenhoven in The Journal of Happiness Studies in 2008 looked at 30 follow-up studies on happiness and its effect on health and longevity. It states: “It is widely acknowledged that mental factors may influence physical functioning and that psychological well-being works positively on physical health.” It points out that where depression slows down the functioning of the body and health, happiness keeps “the body fit and resilient”.  It even found that the effect of happiness on longevity in healthy populations is comparable to that of not smoking.

The U.N. resolution establishing International Day of Happiness recognized “the relevance of happiness and well-being as universal goals…”

So what is happiness? Can you hold happiness in your hands or store it in a jar?

“Happiness is spiritual”² writes Mary Baker Eddy, a pioneer in the field of spirituality and health. She writes further, “It is unselfish; therefore it cannot exist alone, but requires all mankind to share it.”

Spiritual things such as kindness, compassion, feeling a connection with the divine and feeling a connection with our fellowman all contribute to being happy.  The U.N. Secretary-General said it succinctly, “compassion promotes happiness…”

And since happiness is good for health and longevity, perhaps we could take a lesson from Bhutan and measure ourselves not only by our individual net worth but also by our individual net happiness. Maybe that will even warm things up a bit and thaw those winter blues.


¹  RESEARCH PAPER: Healthy happiness: effects of happiness on physical health and the consequences for preventive health care by R. Veenhoven; J Happiness Stud (2008) 9:449–469; DOI 10.1007/s10902-006-9042-1; Published online: February 28,2007; Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007
²  Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, page 57.
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