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Who is Who in the Modern Happiness Movement

The modern thought leaders and pioneers who are making the world a happier place to live in

In recent years, several happiness initiatives have been launched by cities and countries giving a new momentum for the happiness movement. The happiness research is probably the fastest growing research area. The hope is that in the next decade the world would witness a successful implementation of a well-being centered government system and development policies that could serve as a model to learn from and improve upon.

Pioneers of the Modern Happiness Movement

Pioneering Political Leaders:

In 1972 Bhutan’s fourth king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck unintentionally inspired a movement when he coined the phrase "gross national happiness" or (GNH) as a casual off-hand remark in a conference to differentiate his country's spiritual development philosophy from the western development philosophy that overemphasizes material wealth represented by "gross national product" (GNP). Since then, many journalists, academics researchers and authors have referenced the "gross national happiness" political philosophy to promote similar concepts in their countries.

This political leader of a small and poor country inspired the modern happiness movement.  Following in his foot steps, in 2008, President Nicolas Sarkozy started a similar initiative in France calling for the inclusion of happiness and well-being in the criteria for national governance policies. Later it was described as gross domestic happiness (GDH). In 2011 at the G8 summit, Sarkozy called for the a global support for the happiness-centered economic development policies and in the same year the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 65/309, titled "Happiness: towards a holistic approach to development" (see the happiness economics timeline).

It is worth noting that Jigmi Y. Thinley, the Prime Minister of Bhutan, had one of the most important contribution to the promotion of gross national happiness in international forums and at the United Nations. His efforts were instrumental in spreading the concept of GNH around the world and passing the UN resolution to recognize happiness and well being development as critical development goal along economic development.

Pioneering Spiritual Leaders:

Dalai Lama, probably the most prominent modern spiritual leader that gave happiness a central role in his teachings. The teaching of the great spiritual leaders before him did touch on happiness but focused more on the after life in the forms of incarnations or heaven and hell, instead of  focusing more on how to train the mind to lead a happy life. The Dalai Lama work on the "Art of Happiness" inspired many authors and spiritual leaders to focus on the happiness of their people. The Dalai Lama has a strong following in the west.

Pioneering Psychologists:

Probably the most influential happiness psychologist of the twentieth century is Michael Argyle, the author of "The psychology of happiness" in 1987. Prior to Argyle, there were many influential psychologist such as Abraham Maslow and other humanistic researchers, however happiness was not central to their work.

In 2002 Sonja Lyubomirsky and Martin Seligman followed in his footsteps. While previous psychologists focused on treating diseases, positive psychology focused on developing cognitive skills to improve subjective well-being and reduce stress of modern life. Their work on positive psychology is taught in universities around the world. During his tenure as the President of the American Psychological Association Martin worked promoted Positive Psychology as a field of scientific study. These twenty first century scientists are establishing happiness psychology as a branch of science that promises to change the way people think, feel and manage stress in the modern world  (see the happiness economics timeline)

Pioneering Economists:

In 2005, Med Jones, an unorthodox American economist, proposed what might be the most important contribution to global socioeconomic development and public policies. He introduced the first Gross National Happiness / Wellness (GNH / GNW) model that utilized a multidimensional development framework and created the first global GNW / GNH Index as a progress measurement tool. The GNH Index served as a blueprint for later well-being development frameworks and happiness econometric models

The GNH 2.0 utilized a comprehensive socioeconomic development framework and an econometric measurement tool called the GNH Index. The GNH Index combined objective and subjective measures of well-being and served as a framework for future policy development and measurement.  The GNH Index took the struggling gross national happiness philosophy from theory to real-world application in modern development economics.

The GNH Index framework linked together the very difficult subjective aspect of well-being and the objective measures of socioeconomic development. The first Global GNH Index survey was launched in 2005.

Prior to 2005, there were few studies that focused on a single dimension research, for example, there were studies that measured the cost of environmental pollution as a byproduct of industrialized development or the impact of unemployment on levels of satisfaction of the unemployed. There were also happiness related indices that studied the subjective satisfaction in general in each country. But non of those indices provided a socioeconomic development framework that tied subjective and objective measure of well being and proposed direct happiness measurement as a cause and effect rather than indirect measurement such as quality of living standards.

The GNH Index also became the blueprint for future happiness indices and was customized by many countries and local communities around the world. (see the happiness economics timeline).

After the introduction of the GNW / GNH Index, older indices such as quality of life index or genuine progress index (GPI), were later updated to include similar measures to that of the GNH index.

Prominent economists that followed in this economist's footsteps are Joseph Stiglitz (USA), Amartya Sen (India), Jean-Paul Fitoussi (France). In 2009, they published a report commissioned by (former) President of France, Mr. Sarkozy, calling for a global "statistical system which goes beyond commercial activity to measure personal well-being". In the same year, the famous Gallup Poll launched a well-being index based on a subset of the global GNH Index. In 2014 Michael E. Porter, the guru of strategy started Social Progress Index (SPI) or social progress index similar to the GNH Index.

The GNH Index model has the promise to serve as the framework for the future of governing democracies and shifting the focus of elections from general ideological campaigns to scientific based policy issues that measures impact of each policy on the well-being of the citizens.

Other Noteworthy Leaders

There are several other notable scholars, thinkers, authors and civic leaders who are promoting happiness and well-being in their communities and around the world that should be acknowledged. We recommend their work to be included in every personal, school and community library.

  • Dan Gilbert, author of "Stumbling on Happiness"
  • Matthieu Ricard, Biochemist turned Buddhist monk, co-author of Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill
  • Osho, author of the Journey of Being Human, Is it Possible to Find Real Happiness in Ordinary Life?
  • Gretchen Rubin, author of the Happiness Project
  • Dan Harris, author of 10% Happier,
  • David Burns, author of Feeling Good
  • M. Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
  • Yones, M, Consultant, MTCG, creator of SWB survey for peace studies and the prevention of Civil Wars
  • Dr. Mahbub ul Haq, Former Pakistani Minister of Finance, Creator of HDI, developed United Nations Development Program (UNDP) introduces a related concept called the Human Development Index (HDI).

Paper Author: Sara Stenberg, GNH Institute

Sources: GNH Research Library

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