Your happiness does no good

We don’t need more happiness indexes. That’s why I created the Good Country Index.


Our troubles aren’t new. Each generation of humanity has faced its own challenges, and most are as old as humanity itself: poverty, intolerance, inequality, war, disease. But what’s unusual about our age is how technological progress in communications and transport has made those problems more global, frequent and intractable. All are now beyond the power of any single country to resolve.

Humanity needs to work together if it’s going to survive. That’s challenging because we’re organised as we have been for centuries: as competing, inward-looking, self-serving tribes called nations. We must collaborate, but we’re still set up to compete: In fact, we are obsessed with competition.

Competition is fundamental to human nature, and has produced much progress, but it becomes troublesome when it’s the only god we worship. Industry learned to harmonise competition and cooperation in the 1970s, but a ‘co-opetition revolution’ for nations is decades overdue.

We’ve had enough of successful and unsuccessful countries, and we’ve seen what a desperately divisive and unfair contest that is. Now we need good countries, with the wisdom to treat life on earth as a team effort, not a sprint to the finish with one winner and 195 losers.

What a shame that the European Union, humanity’s best shot at the team effort, is in so much trouble today: in principle, a truly noble experiment — but in practice, like so much human endeavour, a bit of a muddle.

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What I call a Good Country is one whose leaders combine their traditional responsibility toward their own people and their own territory with responsibility toward all humanity and the planet: leaders with minds that telescope, not minds that microscope.

This is entirely feasible, and there have been dozens of individual policies over the years to prove that when governments do the right thing for all of humanity and all of the planet, those policies are often better, not worse, for their own population — and not just in the long term, either.

What’s needed now is for more governments to learn from those experiences, and to turn them into a new style of governance, one based on the principle that I call the Dual Mandate: the duty to serve not merely one’s own voters and industries but every man, woman, child and animal on the planet; not merely one’s own slice of territory, but every square mile of the earth’s surface and the atmosphere above it.

This isn’t some wonkish political science experiment. The future of humanity depends upon it.

The last big change in the culture of governance was the idea that societies should aim for happiness rather than just prosperity. The idea first emerged in Bhutan in the 1970s, but its global moment came 40 years later, as the realisation dawned that aggressive capitalism and debt-fuelled growth was a fatally flawed blueprint for human society.

The happiness revelation was crucial, but merely a step on the journey. Simply replacing one selfish goal (I want to be rich) with another (I want to be happy), won’t advance humanity far, and can’t help us solve the global challenges.

We’re already reaching for the next step. You can tell what we consider important by what we measure: Look at the Human Development Index, the Social Progress Index, the Better Life Index, the World Happiness Report, the Happy Planet Index. We agree that there’s more to life than money, but aside from my Good Country Index (measuring how much each country contributes to humanity and the planet), most studies still treat countries as disconnected entities, whose success only concerns their populations. This is odd, given our massive interdependence.

As I write, it might seem as if things are decidedly moving in the wrong direction. As conflicts and resource scarcity multiply, producing more migration (UNHCR’s 2015 Global Trends reports a quadrupling in the last decade, with 24 new refugees each minute), it’s not surprising that nationalism, nativism and fundamentalism are on the rise everywhere, too, inflamed by a generalised anxiety about terrorism, climate change, pandemics and economic instability.

Opportunistic politicians are profiting as they always do in troubled times by echoing the fear and anger of voters, and peddling the old, old lie that all the trouble in the world is caused by foreigners, outsiders and unbelievers — and if we can only keep them out or destroy them, everything will return to its previous state of perfection.

Funny how people find it so much easier to believe in a state of past bliss (which definitely never existed) than in a future state of bliss (which could well exist, if we only put our minds to it).

Luckily, localism usually self-destructs: Most people prefer living in harmony to living in fear and anger, and populists often make poor administrators who don’t last long in office. Younger generations are more connected than ever; migration has existed for long enough to make ‘unmixing’ most populations unthinkable; most international institutions are fairly robust; we depend on global trade, finance and communications; billions of us are addicted to travel and imports; and climate change is simply too pressing for us to diminish our collective efforts.

I could be wrong: Globalisation has also made the past a less reliable guide to the future. So I can’t predict whether human progress will stutter and move on, or whether we’re facing a real reversal.

But I can confidently predict the nature and strength of the counter-movement. My prediction for 2017 is that ‘good’ will start to replace ‘happy’ in constructive international thinking, and — for some of us at least — nationalism and localism will at last begin to look as old-fashioned, as offensive, as stupid, and ultimately as taboo as sexism and racism.


Find out more about the Good Country movement. Watch Simon Anholt’s TED talk. Check out your country’s ranking in the Good Country Index. Vote for the ‘goodest’ candidate in a range of elections (including the United States presidential election) at www.globalvote.org.

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