How Do You Measure Happiness?

“The gross national product… measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.” ~ Robert Kennnedy, 1968 

Days 24-27: Gross National Product seeks to define the prosperity and quality of life in a nation by assessing the market value of the goods and services it provides. But as we all know, there is far more to living a rich life than economic wealth. With this in mind, in 1972 the 5th King of Bhutan – a small landlocked monarchy in Southern Asia where the average income is around $3 – coined the idea of Gross National Happiness. Its an idea that is slowly gaining popularity around the world. The GNH survey has even been taken by Australians, who on average rate their own happiness level at around 7.9 out of 10 (‘Growth Matters’, Andrew Leigh, 2006). In fact, the recent studies of international happiness have consistently placed Australia in the Top 10 Happiest Countries.

At first I thought perhaps sunshine and warmth had a lot to do with it, but many of the other happiest countries are cold and snowy most of the year. None of the countries are poor, but again the wealth of a nation doesn’t directly correspond to its happiness level. So how exactly do you measure a nation’s happiness? Assessing GNH currently involves a nationwide survey which includes questions such as: Do you consider karma in your daily life? How much do you trust your neighbours? Do you feel you have the right to freedom of speech? How do you dispose of household waste? How often do you experience compassion? They are then asked, “All things considered, how happy are you with your life?”

How would you answer this question? What things contribute to your happiness level?


When I asked myself this question, I had to admit the Year of Kindness is certainly making me happy – though little has actually changed in my life, a lot has changed in my perspective of it. This week I babysat for my dear friends H and R (who haven’t been out to dinner since their daughter was born 2 1/2 years ago!), paid a visit to my Grandpa and left him some home made jam drop biscuits, practised listening more and speaking less, and bought my boss a tea cup lid (she is forever re-heating her tea as she never has time to sit down and drink a whole cup). None of these things were at all remarkable or difficult, and yet they made myself and others very happy. I know the age-old saying that the only person that can truly make you happy is yourself, but I have never actually experienced it quite so literally before. I don’t know how you can measure this kind of wealth – maybe in the quantity and quality of smiles? – but simply because it can’t be measured doesn’t take away its significance. 

So today why not forget about financial wealth as the only marker of success and think about how much happiness you have in the bank. Take Bobby Kennedy’s advice and focus on your wit and courage, wisdom and learning, and compassion. You’ll probably find you’re a lot richer than you thought.