Walking Back to (GN) Happiness*

A long time ago, the then leader of Bhutan was interviewed, and was asked about his understanding of Gross National Productivity in Bhutan. He replied that he wasn’t particularly interested in GNP, but that he was really interested in something called Gross National Happiness. By all accounts this was a bit of a throwaway line, but ever since, Bhutan has been held up as shining example of an alternative and better way of measuring a country’s state of development.

Just as well, you might argue, as using traditional measures, Bhutan is always going to be looked at as a country in development – it has little going for it in the way of natural resources, has the global equivalent of the neighbours from hell, and generally has an existence that western states would describe as ‘basic’ by traditional measures.

But I’m a big fan of GNH, as I think most people’s satisfaction with their lot is based around far more than average income levels. To illustrate – GNH has been further defined as the following seven measures:

1. Economic Wellness: eg consumer debt, average income to consumer price index ratio and income distribution

2. Environmental Wellness: eg pollution, noise and traffic

3. Physical Wellness: eg severe illnesses

4. Mental Wellness: eg usage of antidepressants and rise or decline of psychotherapy patients

5. Workplace Wellness: eg claimants, job change, workplace complaints and lawsuits

6. Social Wellness: eg discrimination, safety, divorce rates, complaints of domestic conflicts and family lawsuits, public lawsuits, crime rates

7. Political Wellness: eg quality of local democracy, individual freedom, and foreign conflicts.

And if you buy into the whole GNH assessment, then a combination of all of the above feels like a pretty well balanced view of your country.

Of course, the challenge with this is that you need to hang your standard measures somewhere, and that’s where it starts getting complicated. But I think that people tend to wear their GNH on their sleeves most of the time – and it’s influenced by a whole load of non-economic factors – so for example I’d suggest that the weather, MP expenses scandals, the state of the NHS, how well Andy Murray is doing at Wimbledon and many other factors have a far bigger impact on the mood of the UK than any traditional economic measure.

So, how to measure this complicated mess? Well, I’m pleased to say, dear reader, that The Emu can exclusively reveal how to measure the health of the nation, using a single points score, far more accurately than any traditional way, and for a fraction of the cost.

Many years ago, I started doing my long Sunday morning runs with my friend G, who for the sake of this blog, we will refer to as The Flying Postman. Now, TFP and I have pretty much nothing in common. But we seem to knock along fine for a couple of hours every week, arguing the finer points of politics/hamstring injuries/football/families and the like, so that a Sunday morning not spent trying to argue TFP out of his ‘hang ’em and flog ’em’ approach to benefit cheats and shoplifters seems like a pretty empty place indeed. And one notable difference between us is in how we talk to people we meet on those Sunday mornings.

Possibly because I don’t particularly enjoy the actual running element of running, I might just about manage a grunt at the walker/dog-owner/runner coming in the opposite direction. TFP, however, fairly skips into their vision, flashes a winning smile, and calls out a hearty ‘Good Morning’, in a voice that can sometimes be heard across three counties. And it’s the reaction to TFP, who, incidentally looks like a nightclub bouncer, and is normally approaching them at pace, wearing a vest and sweating like a good’un, that interests us here.

So, a few weeks ago, I challenged TFP to a competition to measure GNH every Sunday. Basically, you get a point for every person you meet on the run who says ‘Good Morning’ back to you. There is an increasingly complex system of penalty and bonus scores, which means that a ‘good’ score works out about zero:

1. A point for each good morning back

2. Minus one for each person who ignores you

3. Groups of people must all answer back – so if you only get a ‘spokesman’ response from a family of four, you score a net minus two

4. Dog walkers are excluded. They’re going to say hello anyway. But it does allow a free practice go

5. Fellow runners coming towards you who don’t answer – score minus two

6. And minus ten, for a member of your own running club who ignores you. This really happened a few weeks ago and it led us to practically weep for humanity. Well, sort of.

7. From the agreed position that all cyclists are miserable sods, you may ‘Good Morning’ them with no penalty for no response, but you do get a point for a “Good Morning” back. Which accounted for a fairly high total a couple of weeks back when we found ourselves on the course of the Norwich Triathlon, running against the traffic.

8. Living fairly near the university and running Sunday mornings gives us a fair chance of bumping into students enjoying the ‘walk of shame’ home after a big night out. Wearing last night’s clothes used to be a bit of a badge of honour in my day, but please note, it is no longer acceptable to call out “well done mate”, particularly if it’s a girl. After all, one day, the voice under the hoody will answer back “Morning Dad”. Anyway, double points for a response.

9. Double points as well for young families with pushchairs. If you have a baby, it’s unlikely that you’re going to actually want to go for a walk at 8am on a Sunday, so if they can engage with sweating strangers coming towards them, they deserve to be counted extra

10. If the walker/runner/cyclist says “Good Morning” first, five points. I’m looking forward to a few games of ‘Cheerful Greeting Chicken’ as a result of this rule. Which was, incidentally brought in last week after someone with a voice slightly louder than TFP got in there first. Honestly, it was like being at the deaf glee club.

On our last run, where TFP scored a rather disappointing minus 12, (and therefore summing up Eastern England post World Cup, post Wimbledon, and pre summer holidays,) I asked him why he was so insistent on being so cheery in the mornings. “I don’t know”, he said, “I just like saying hello to people I suppose – and any way if more people did it, we’d all be a lot happier”.

Of course, he’s right. Really must try it myself some time.

*Not often you get a chance to reference Helen Shapiro and John Cooper Clarke in the same heading. More of both in the world would be good. And hello Steph x


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