Home FUTURE AGENDA | Evolving Challenges On Happiness and Success (videos+article)

On Happiness and Success (videos+article)

 Dan Buettner, Fellow at National Geographic, takes the audience on a journey in discovering happiness zones around the world during the World Government Summit 2017.

Accodring to Arturo Bris, Professor of Finance at IMD and director the IMD World Competitiveness Centerthe modern concept of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – as a standard for measuring and managing the size of an economy – was developed by economist Simon Kuznets in 1934, calculated using output, expenditure, or income figures.
However GDP ignores the relationship between economic growth and income inequality. Growth is very often a poor measure of prosperity, and Kuznet had warned that “any claim to significance would have would lie in its presumptive usefulness as an appraisal of the contribution of economic activity to the welfare of the country’s inhabitants, present and future”.
Backtracking, Thomas Jefferson, wrote already in the 18th century: “to preserve human life and the happiness of people is the only legitimate objective of any good government”.
Later, he introduced the famous sentence about the “pursuit of happiness” in the US Declaration of Independence.
Governments and international organizations have started looking for alternatives.
During the 2017 World Government Summit recently held in Dubai the search for alternatives was discussed in depth.
The Kingdom of Bhutan introduced Gross National Happiness indicators in 2011, measuring 4 indicators of national wellbeing: equitable social and economic development; protection of culture; preservation of environment; and good governance. These pillars encompass what the country understands are the main conditions for happiness: living standards, health, education, environment, governance, psychological wellbeing, time use, cultural resilience, and community vitality.
In 2012 Japan conducted its first Quality of Life Survey and had already established a Cabinet Commission on Measuring Wellbeing.
Attempts to incorporate happiness and wellbeing have also made their entry into some education systems: In 2013 the Republic of Korea established a policy of “Happy Education for All”, and Singapore has integrated Social and Emotional Learning as part of the Character and Citizenship Education syllabus in 2013.
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has already conducted three international surveys to assess the level of life satisfaction in 34 countries.

New metrics and assessments are informing actual policy decisions, a good example being the “What Works Center for Wellbeing” in the UK.

Recently, the United Nations declared March 20th the “International Day of Happiness”.
What is happiness?
According to Stéphane Garelli, a world authority on competitiveness and Professor Emeritus at IMD where he founded the World Competitiveness Centre, the prosperity of a nation is a collective concept, which results, among other factors, from its competitiveness.
On the contrary, happiness is more of an individual belief. There is indeed an economic aspect which depends on a good standard of living, but there is a more personal aspect to happiness which is more difficult to express.

In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle argues that the origin of happiness should be split into two: one part that results from a person’s environment. The other part relies on a natural aptitude to be happy.


Several studies show that positive emotions induce people to be in better health and even to have greater success in life.

Most people believe that success will lead to happiness.

However, research in psychology and neurosciences seems to indicate that the opposite is true. Happiness favors success because it leads people to become more motivated, innovative, dynamic and especially more resilient.

What makes people happy and why are people in some countries happier than in others?

Why are Danish people happy, but Russians less so?

One can attribute differences in wellbeing to institutional, not individual factors, and therefore happiness can be managed.

However happiness may be driven by genetic or cultural factors, and therefore some people are by design more likely to be happy. In fact, there seems to be a “happiness gene” which has been identified after analyzing the human genome of almost 300,000 individuals.


The study, conducted by University of Amsterdam professors Meike Bartels (Genetics and Wellbeing) and Philipp Koellinger (Genoeconomics), identifies three genetic variants for happiness.

our predisposition to be happy can somehow be predicted when we are born.

The largest longitudinal study ever conducted on happiness is the Harvard Study of Adult Development. For more than 80 years since 1930, researchers have been following the lives of 268 Caucasian men from the Harvard classes of 1939-1944, and 456 Caucasian men from the neighborhoods of Boston. The first group included 19 year old individuals, while the second group consisted of people who were between 11 and 16 years old when the study started.

By following their experience and main events throughout their lives, Prof. Robert J. Waldinger and his team have been able to isolate the environmental factors that make people happy.

And, surprisingly, they have nothing to do with income, wealth, and material goods.

The main determinant of happiness is the quality of human relationships: individuals who grow surrounded by friends and family, and who maintain solid and enriching relationships with other individuals, live happier lives.

Indeed, preserving these relationships while growing older also helps people live longer.

In general, happy people have a higher level of confidence in themselves, which is a strength that helps confront many of life’s problems.

In sum, professor Arturo Bris contests that economic policies need to pursue new, more ambitious goals related not only to individual income and country productivity, but also to life satisfaction and happiness.

The productivity gains and innovations of the recent decades have not translated necessarily into more prosperity for all; competitiveness has come at the expense of income inequality, hence growth is not associated to fairness and life satisfaction.

Being that happiness is a subjective emotional state, we can still measure the extent to which the socioeconomic environment and cultural variables make people happy.

And we know very well what the key performance indicator of a society in the 21st century should be—people’s happiness.

According to professor Stéphane Garelli, companies too have a vested interest in having happy employees.

Already, in the 1950s, Bill Hewlett, one of the founders of the Hewlett-Packard company, was saying: “If you provide a good work environment to your employees, they will naturally do a good job,” and they will be happy while doing it.

Today, several rankings try to identify the best employers. Google regularly reaches top ranking; apparently, it has figured out a magic formula to make its employees quite happy to work there.

Therefore, it is not absurd for governments and companies to provide and nurture an environment where people can be happy.

However, we still need to find what the value drivers of happiness are: how does policy allow people to develop healthy relationships?

How should education encourage positive thinking and collaboration?

How can governments manage life satisfaction when it depends on cultural and environmental factors?

Measuring is one thing.

Managing is another.