…and the pursuit of happiness

A recent Chamber presentation by Mike McKinley entitled “Laughing Your Way to Success & Happiness,” invited more thought about our third unalienable right: the pursuit of happiness. Since we have been in pursuit for 235 years; certainly we’ve made progress.
In many industries, the U.S. leads the world in production efficiency and effectiveness. So why not in the creation of happiness and well-being? As one of the wealthiest nations ever to grace the planet we have the resources to tickle our funny bone when faced with virtually any dilemma. Our technological progress—astounding by any measure—has surely brought us unprecedented bliss. Our pharmaceutical industry has developed an arsenal of weapons to combat every mental illness or depression. Our progress in the efficient creation of happiness must likewise be astounding.
Oh contraire! Meet the HPI—Happy Planet Index—developed by the New Economics Foundation. The HPI measures how efficiently a country converts resources into well-being for its citizens. In other words, it measures the units of “happiness” created for each square foot of carbon footprint employed. Similar to business; the spoils go, not to the one who produces the most, but to he who produces most efficiently.
As we explore, keep in mind the HPI does not measure the happiest countries, but the relative efficiency with which nations convert natural resources into long and happy lives. The results? The United States scores a 30.7. Most African nations score lower; Zimbabwe is at 16.6. On the other hand, we score lower—often much lower—than most every other nation in the world. Russia scores 34.5; Canada 39.4, Poland 42.8, Mexico 55.6, China 57.1, and Brazil an astounding 61.
There are three components to the HPI. Happiness results from both life expectancy and a measure of life satisfaction. On those, the U.S. actually scores somewhat better than other countries. Our downfall is the amount we spend to get that level satisfaction for the years we live. The ecological footprint we employ for our slightly higher “happiness” does us in; our costs are out of proportion to what we produce. If there was a world market for satisfaction, we would have an abundance to sell, but our costs are so uncompetitive that no one could afford to buy what we produce!
While we are one of the wealthiest nations ever to grace the planet, we tickle our funny bone with a mountain of trinkets that ultimately do not make us happy. While our technological progress is astounding, we use our laptops, tablets, droids and iPhones to remain connected…at a comfortable distance from one another. Our growing arsenal of expensive pharmaceuticals is stockpiled, not just to fight severe mental illness, but to numb us from even the slightest hint of sadness.
There are graphs for any process that compare the next bit of benefit from an added expense. These define the cost/benefit debates we engage in every day. For some reason, it appears we don’t even engage in that debate when it comes to happiness. We appear willing to throw the Earth’s limited resources willy-nilly in virtually any direction in its pursuit. Should we continue, happiness, and its pursuit, just might be less unalienable than we thought.
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