Let’s Talk Happiness

On the 10th of June 2014 a very rich debate has taken place at the EESC about wanting to be rich or poor, or wanting to have a house or not. The members at the meeting looked at questions concerning if people wanted to go on holiday or not or if they wanted to have access to a good health service or not. The objective of the conference was to debate indicators on well-being and social progress in the context of a transition to an alternative mode of growth.

The main aims of the conference included:

  • State of affairs: Where we are today. The usefulness of indicators beyond GDP, analysis of their strengths and weaknesses. How can we measure well-being in developed countries
  • Democratic challenges: Bridging the gap with citizens. The respective role of Institutions and of Civil society in the selection and monitoring of indicators of well-being
  • Political commitment: Long term commitment on the production of well-being indicators beyond GDP. Where and when do we take action on the choice and follow-up of indicators? How actions taken today might affect future well-being? Europe 2020, Post 2015, NSSD, etc.

The conference provided the opportunity to reflect on how to define and measure the well-being of European citizens and the sustainability of their lifestyles. The event also aimed to provide an overview of the work done on this topic. Research and field experience of stakeholders demonstrated the importance and urgency of reconsidering wealth indicators as a means to re-framing the current debate on economic policy.

Luca Jahier, Jacki Davis, Karl Falkenberg 2014_06_10_lets_talk_happiness_group_iii

Luca Jahier, Jacki Davis andKarl Falkenberg

Jacki Davis was the moderator,for the debate with Luca Jahier as president, Karl Falkenberg, Isabelle Cassiers, Enrico Giovannini, Romina Boarini, Marleen De Smedt, Viliam Palenik, Saamah Abdallah, Sébastien Brunet, André-Jean Guérin, Tom Bauler, Andrew Stirling, Christian Kroll, Evelyne Pichenot, Célina Whitaker, Lidia Bratanova and Conny Reuter as speakers.

What would be indicating or helping to the luck of people?

In the morning there was debated what could be contributing to the happiness and how it could be influenced by having the freedom to work, or do you want to have temporary and very badly paid work. Is it that people would love to be capable of making their dreams and expectations come true? Would they also be willing to pay for good schools for their kids’ education (either private or public school, they shall always have to pay through taxes).

I think most people would love to be happy, but have also come frustrated by the political system. Some politicians may still believe all people are perfectly capable of giving a clear answer, but I am more convinced several have many doubts and lots of people do have no clear view how we could come to a situation where everybody can share the same happiness.

Though many may deliver an answer every day, every week, every election. About the “how” many also seem to have some good ideas: maybe ordinary people cannot elaborate complex five-years plans, but how many five-years plans have failed? Too many! Also, in our democratic and open-market space, people are able to deliver solutions, if there is room for them and a clear direction is chosen.

According the independent scientist at the Institute of Economic Research of the Slovak Academy of Sciences, and since 2001 visiting docent at the Faculty of mathematics, physics and informatics of the Comenius University in Bratislava, professor Viliam Palenik GDP is not the most appropriate for measuring public wealth, which can be seen in the deceiving–case of Slovakia, Netherlands, Latvia and where a majority of countries experienced growth in net disposable income of households p. capita with the exceptions being Belgium, Spain, Italy, Hungary and again the Netherlands.

For him there is a need for a new indicator, which would capture real development of public wealth – income of households: Net disposable income of households sector in national accounts Measured per capita at constant prices (HICP) strictly to set off imputed goods and services (including voluntary work) be issued as fast as GDP.

Quarterly Gross Domestic Product (year-on-year...

Quarterly Gross Domestic Product (year-on-year growth in real GDP) and Unemployment Rate (simple monthly average) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Standard measures of important socio economic variables like economic growth, in flation, unemployment, etc. and widespread perceptions may suggest, for instance that there is less inflation or more growth than individuals perceive to be the case, and the gap is so large and so universal that it cannot be explained by reference to money illusion or to human psychology. In some countries, this gap has undermined confidence in official statistics (for example, in France and in the United Kingdom. Only one third of citizens trust official figures, and these countries are not exceptions), with a clear impact on the way in which public discourse about the conditions of the economy and necessary policies takes place.

When there are large changes in inequality (more generally a change in income distribution) gross domestic product (GDP) or any other aggregate computed per capita may not provide an accurate assessment of the situation in which most people find themselves. If inequality increases enough relative to the increase in average per capital GDP, most people can be worse off even though average income is increasing.

For the president, the essential thing is to move away definitely from the era when GDP and nothing else existed.

Because we are coming from that era, we are still stuck in it. The Commission has finally struck a small compromise with the Council that accepted to insert in the Semester the official scoreboard, but then it was made clear that that was only for the minutes, not for policies. We are still trapped in a double constriction: the obligation to respect the 3% of the maximum debt spending, and the fact of looking for almost 1% of growth per year. We don’t have to ignore these indicators, we simply have to move on from this!

Luca Jahier said.

English: Productivity comparison for the membe...

English: Productivity comparison for the member states of the OECD. Productivity is Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per hour worked, as measured in US dollars. Lines for the OECD average and the Euro-zone average shown for comparison. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The limit for deficit and expenditure can be revised, looking for GDP growth, but we have to close this era:

GDP in public spending and austerity, and nothing more.

In this respect, he particularly liked to report Herman Van Rompuy‘s words:

“step by step we go far”.

Enrico Giovannini 2014_06_10_lets_talk_happiness_group_iii

Enrico Giovannini

Enrico Giovannini who was until recently Italian Minister of Labour and Social Policies and President of the Italian Statistical Institute (ISTAT) has been a key figure in Beyond GDP debates. He is professor of economic statistics at the Rome University Tor Vergata and member of the Club of Rome. Prof. Giovannini has  as Chief Statistician at the OECD from 2001 to 2009, he launched the Global Project on the Measurement of Progress of Societies. He was also a member of the Stiglitz Commission, established by Nikolas Sarkozy, and chaired the World Economic Forum’s Global Council on the Evaluation of Societal Progress. For his work on the measurement of societal well-being in 2010 he was awarded the Gold Medal of the President of Italy by the Pio Manzu’ International Center.

Professor Giovannini pointed out in the morning

“if it is difficult to measure happiness, please try measuring GDP”!

That was very clear that morning: after ten years of reflections, meetings, debates, very important work by statisticians, experts and many international organisations such as Eurostat, UNECE, OECD, now it is clear. We even have too many indicators, even after the HDI: I hear that more than a thousand indicators have been developed over the last years.

It is not so easy just to make a few choices, because there are too many indicators. We have to face the demand for new paradigms and perspectives, coming from many areas. In our macroeconomic situation we have to find new long-term drivers of employment and growth.

This morning we were reminded of the green economy issue: when the first people started talking about the green economy, in the 80s, they were deemed to be very strange people. Now we expect it to create 20 million jobs, and we can head in many different directions. Let’s take social economy, for instance: 10 years ago the European Commission cancelled all initiatives on the social economy, now we just came from Strasbourg, when it was recognized that social economy enterprises have been the most resilient in the crisis and that they are capable of delivering jobs, new forms of long term sustainable growth, social and territorial cohesion.

concluded Jahier.

“The new Commission must carry out impact assessments of its policies, especially with regard to their impact on Europeans’ quality of life”,


Luca Jahier, President of EESC group III (various interests) and organiser of this event.

said Mr Jahier in his closing remarks. He suggested a conference of civil society organisations, at which their priorities could be announced in a special “State of the Union” address, and a broad public debate on the review of the Europe 2020 Strategy.

The emphasis in the revised Europe 2020 Strategy must be on growth and development and it should also integrate indicators beyond GDP.

Accordingly, the Annual Growth Survey (AGS) and the European Semester exercise should be re-balanced by including additional indicators (beyond GDP) targeting sustainability, innovation, development, and social and human capital.


Additional reading:

  1. Thirst for happiness and meaning
  2. Getting out of the dark corners of this world
  3. Where is the edge
  4. Subcutaneous power for humanity 5 Loneliness, Virtual and real friends
  5. Searching for fulfilment and meaning through own efforts, facing unsatisfaction and depression
  6. We all have to have dreams
  7. Determine the drive
  8. International Day of Happiness!
  9. Happy International Happiness Day!
  10. By counting our blessings we not only feel good, but we multiply our good
  11. Happiness an inner state
  12. Spreading good cheer contagious
  13. Lonely in the crowd
  14. “Unnoticed”
  15. See the conquest and believe that we can gain the victory
  16. Gender connections
  17. 30 things to start doing for yourself – #6 is vital.
  18. Food as a Therapeutic Aid
  19. Happy is the person who knows what to remember of the past
  20. Remember there’s a light in the next day
  21. Joy: Foundation for a Positive Life
  22. The business of this life
  23. Whom can we trust to govern us?
  24. Being Religious and Spiritual 1 Immateriality and Spiritual experience


  • Closer to the Bottom than to the Top (notesonthefront.typepad.com)
    Irish living standards are now closer to the bottom of the EU-15 countries than to the top; they are closer to Greece than to Germany or Belgium or the UK or most other EU-15 countries.
  • Moving Greece towards sustainable development: the only road for the future! (neaonlinedotcom1.wordpress.com)
    “We need to strike the right balance between austerity, fiscal responsibility and growth-promoting measures. We also need to strike the right balance between the economic and social dimensions of the crisis”, said Luca Jahier, President of the Various Interests Group. He called on Greece to continue to fight corruption, reduce deficit imbalances and carry out structural reforms to make the country more competitive. But he also stressed that such measures must be complemented by growth and equity-promoting measures through employment creation, poverty reduction and the protection of consumer rights.
  • Closer to the Bottom than to the Top (irishleftreview.org)
    AIC captures goods and services bought by households and by Governments on behalf of households.
    The following table shows the relationship of European countries’ living standards to the EU-15 average, with the EU-15 equalling 100.


  • Should happiness, more than GDP, define a nation’s success? (money.cnn.com)
    The assumption is that the more economic growth the better. Legislators are forever debating the merits of a measure on the basis of whether it would create jobs and boost GDP.But rarely do you hear lawmakers debate whether a measure will boost or detract from citizens’ well-being, of which income is just one part.
  • The Quest for the Happy Grail (econoscale.com)
    There is a dearth of happy news in the world today. There is always some civil war, economic crisis, disease, poverty or corruption story on the front page of every newspaper. We are either getting more and more depressed about the state of our planet or more and more indifferent about other human beings. Perhaps it is most befitting in a time like this to take a 10 minute break from all the negativity surrounding the world to read about happiness. Isn’t that our ultimate goal? Once you are done reading, you might see that this was not a rhetorical question after all…
  • The happiest countries in the world (usatoday.com)
    Switzerland’s residents are the most satisfied with their lives for the second consecutive year, according to the Better Life Index released last week. The study, published annually by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), reported that United States failed to crack the top 10 for the fourth consecutive year, while neighbors Mexico and Canada did.The Better Life Index rates the 34 OECD member nations, as well as Brazil and the Russian Federation, on 11 variables that contribute to a high quality of life, including income, education, housing, health, and life satisfaction. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 11 countries with the highest life satisfaction score.One of the most important factors contributing to higher life evaluations is the presence of healthy job market. Of the 11 nations with the highest levels of life satisfaction, nine were among the top 10 nations by employment rate, measured as the percentage of the working-age population that is employed.
  • The Happiest Countries in the World (247wallst.com)
    Good health also contributes to life satisfaction. In eight of the 11 countries, a higher-than-average proportion of residents described their health as at least “good.” In Canada, 88% of respondents rated their health as “good” or better, well above the OECD-wide 69%. Life expectancies were also quite high in many of these nations. In Switzerland, the top-rated nation for life satisfaction, the average life expectancy was 82.8 years, the highest of any country reviewed by the OECD.Boarini noted that low life satisfaction can also negatively effect health, telling 24/7 Wall St. that “There’s also a lot of evidence that when people are not very satisfied with their lives it has a negative impact on their health.”
  • Italy stats office threatens to stop issuing data (4-traders.com)
    The euro zone’s third biggest economy, whose statistics are closely watched as the country’s huge state debts put it at the center of the bloc’s financial crisis, would face stiff European Union fines if the flow of data is cut off, ISTAT President Enrico Giovannini was quoted as saying.”Spending cuts are putting ISTAT at risk. From January onwards we will not issue any statistics,” Giovannini told daily La Repubblica in an interview.
  • Economic Progress And Unemployement: is there any correlation?
    This paper examines how a common labour force statistic, such as the unemployment rate, can play a vital role in the economic progress of a developing country like Pakistan.Empirical evidence abroad suggests that unemployment is a key variable when it comes to any discussion of economic improvement; this finding is supported through both primary and secondary sources. Annual unemployment rates and GDP (per capita) are in fact related to each other, and the extent of this relationship is further examined in this article through a basic regression model on data from the 1980s to 2010.
  • Poverty In Italy Rises To All Time High (zerohedge.com)
    As Italy’s ISTAT reported yesterday, poverty in Italy has reached its highest level in at least 16 years “as the economic crisis has bitten, driving up unemployment and cutting wages, according to a report on social cohesion issued on Monday. Relative poverty, defined as a family of two living on a monthly income of 991 euros (847.61 pounds) or less, affected 12.7 percent of families, the highest level recorded since the current series of data began in 1997, the report by statistics agency ISTAT said.”It was immediately unclear if this beat expectations of a 13% print, and thus was bullish for the Stalingrad and Propaganda 500.

About Marcus Ampe

Retired dancer, choreographer, choreologist Founder of the Dance impresario office and archive: Danscontact-Dansarchief plus the Association for Bible scholars, the Lifestyle magazines "Stepping Toes" and "From Guestwriters" and creator of the site "Messiah for all". - Gepensioneerd danser, choreograaf, choreoloog. Stichter van Danscontact-Dansarchief plus van de Vereniging voor Bijbelvorsers, de Lifestyle magazines "Stepping Toes" en "From Guestwriters" en maker van de site "Messiah for all".
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6 Responses to Let’s Talk Happiness

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