VER SINCE THE INVENTION OF NATIONAL ACCOUNTS in the 1930s (i.e., methods of measuring the total economic activity of a country), the prevailing
worldview has been that the well-being of a society could be measured by looking at the economy and calculating the gross domestic product (or more speciﬁ cally, the gross domestic product per capita). This fundamental concept has come under increasing scrutiny in the last few decades. Perhaps the most articulate critique was spoken by the late Senator Robert Kennedy who stated in a speech delivered on March 18, 1968, at the University of Kansas:
Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product-if we judge the United States of America by that-that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to ﬁ ght the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman’s riﬂ e and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public ofﬁ cials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans. (Kennedy, 1968)
Sustainability requires its simultaneous achievement in all three areas of economy, ecology, and society, yet what we actually measure with national income data is focused solely on the economic. Clearly, there are a signiﬁ cant number of factors that matter to people and are not captured in GDP data. One of these factors surely must be satisfaction or happiness. This has been a difﬁ cult variable to measure because of its intangible nature, its cultural characteristics, and its potentially changing components. Fortunately, several outstanding research advances have occurred
F I G U R E 4 . 1 A ,
B , C
in the last few years, offering a glimpse of temporal trends in happiness in such countries as the United States as well as permitting cross-national and cross-cultural comparisons (Diener et al. 2010; Graham 2009; Helliwell et al. 2012; Ingelhart 2004). Recent research from the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago (Smith 2011) shows that Americans seem to be no happier than they were 30 years ago despite increased median income (U.S. Census Bureau 2011; see also Helliwell et al. 2012). [See Figures 4-1a and b. ] In fact, Figure 4-1c suggests that there may be a modest negative relationship between the two variables in the United States.