Weighing GNP vs GNH

Updated: 2011-10-08 08:06

(China Daily)

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There are plenty of heavy hearts in China's big cities. When asked how satisfied they are with a metropolis as a place to live, many people say they are being pushed to their psychological limits.

A survey by Horizon Research Consultancy Group found that life in metropolises such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou did not necessarily make Chinese people happy. Instead, more people were choosing to live in medium-sized cities, like provincial capitals.

Metropolises are known for unreliable services and high prices. These are just some of the reasons that big-city residents are wearing long faces. People are fearful about their jobs and livelihoods.

We need to pay attention to the subtle messages telling us to slow down. Some of these messages are the feeling of being constantly irritable and ready to explode and the fear that we are always behind.

Considering these fears, it is not difficult to understand why 26 million Chinese people are depressed.

However, the concept of economics as just one measure of happiness is not developed in China.

In the 1970s, the tiny South Asian nation of Bhutan promoted sky-high "gross national happiness" (GNH) as its national goal. A cynic might argue that a country with a gross national product (GNP) as small as Bhutan's can well afford to worry about its GNH, and that the best way to increase GNH is by increasing GNP.

Happiness is considered to be a personal emotion and a personal choice, not an attribute of a community or a country.

Yaxi, a sleepy little village in Jiangsu province, has been named China's "first slow" city for its organic farming practices. Devoid of all modern frills, the village attracted the attention of Cittaslow, the sustainable lifestyle movement that surfaced in Italy 11 years ago.

The title is a confirmation of the village's concerted efforts to preserve an old-country, small-village atmosphere where growth is controlled, chain stores are discouraged and civic life revolves around a close-knit society that allows people to grow old gracefully.

But could the whole country learn something from this small village? One may ask whether following Yaxi's example might ruin the economy, but what is an economy for? Isn't it to help create a happy, healthy country? What good is a "healthy" economy if it saddens its citizens?

In 2009, the Journal of Happiness Studies highlighted a striking paradox in China's expanding economy. While Chinese people are getting richer, they do not seem to be getting happier.

To address this, we need a new approach to both the economy and to our sense of well-being.

(China Daily 10/08/2011 page5)