Happiness rates beyond wealth

New Zealand would benefit considerably if more attention was paid to "Gross National Happiness" instead of simply to Gross National Product, a Canadian health specialist, Michael Pennock, says.

Mr Pennock, a population health epidemiologist at the Vancouver Island Health Authority, took part in a workshop focusing on a "gross national happiness" policy approach, at an international health conference in Dunedin this week.

The three-day Asia and Pacific Regional Health Impact Assessment (HIA) conference ends at at the University of Otago today.

Mr Pennock said that concepts such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Gross National Product (GNP), had been developed to analyse the size and growth of national economies, but had not been intended to measure the overall wellbeing of the inhabitants of such countries.

The term "Gross National Happiness" had been first used by the former King of Bhutan in 1972 when he suggested that it was a more important measure of the nation's development than a purely economic "national product", Mr Pennock said in an interview.

Health Impact Assessments are intended to be part of a "smarter" approach to policy formation, by checking in advance the likely impacts of proposed policies on health and wellbeing, including potential effects for socially disadvantaged groups of people covered by such policies.

Mr Pennock said that international surveys had shown that happiness and wellbeing were reported to be significantly increased when people escaped from poverty.

But money was clearly not the only factor in wellbeing, given that the GNP of developed countries had increased considerably over the past 20 years, but surveys in Canada and New Zealand revealed that wellbeing levels had remained static despite this, and in the United States had actually fallen.

Mr Pennock has been helping to develop a "gross national happiness" framework, utilising an international network of scholars and published research literature.

Testing proposed policies for their effect on the community's sense of wellbeing was likely to result in money being spent more effectively, and would reduce unintended negative effects, he said.

Wellbeing included many aspects, including health, community and social dimensions, environmental and cultural vitality and living standards.

About 100 people from 20 countries, are attending the conference.

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