Happiness Economics & 'The Economics of Happiness'

Helena Norberg-Hodge would like to reclaim the word "happiness."

"Happiness, as a word, has become sort of equated with these smiling images on television, selling some nice cream or food product or something," she told us from her home in Berkeley, California, "It's seen a bit as being a stupid consumer."

Watch the trailer for the documentary, "The Economics of Happiness:"

And according to Norberg-Hodge, consumption does not in fact make you happy. Working with the land; doing business on a small, local scale; knowing where your food comes from - that's what gives life meaning. And, she argues, whether you prefer the word 'joy' or 'contentment' or 'well-being' instead of happiness, that's not really the point.

"There's often a discussion about, 'Well, how do we know what happiness is? Is it real?' I've always argued that all of us know that there's a huge difference between how we feel when we feel happy and when we don't feel happy."

Tonight her new documentary, "The Economics of Happiness," is having its official launch in Seattle. The doc includes interviews with some familiar names in the environmentalist movement: Bill McKibben, Clive Hamilton, Vandana Shiva, and takes a firm anti-globalization stance. She particularly champions the 'locavore' movement, and the power of small, local businesses to bring meaning, to bring happiness, back into people's lives.

"The economic indicators that are used now to measure economic growth -- for instance, just looking at annual income simply doesn't do it. Because if in order to earn that money you have absolutely no time for yourself or your children, it is not a happy existence."

While thinking about this documentary, we've also been looking at economists Justin Wolfers and Betsey Stevenson's new report: Subjective Well-Being, Income, Economic Development and Growth.

It looks at research on happiness too, comparing different countries, and it essentially finds that yes, counter to the Easterlin Paradox, growth and development do in fact make you happier.

So now we're asking ourselves, are these diametrically opposed views, or are they compatible? Can we slow down the rate of globalization while still encouraging economic development and growth?

Will that bring us true happiness?

For additional info about the Norberg-Hodge's film (she's the narrator and one of the writer/directors) visit the film's website.

About the author

Amanda Aronczyk is a public radio reporter and producer.

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