The Government declared some time ago that the focus for this year’s budget is wellbeing. Increasing the wellbeing of New Zealanders is a very laudable aim and indeed, there is a noticeable global trend at a country and an individual level for the pursuit of wellbeing to take precedence over the pursuit of economic growth and wealth creation. People want balance, fairness, equity and happiness. The wellbeing of a community is inextricably linked to the wellbeing of individuals. It is much harder to feel good about life when you are surrounded by people who are suffering. Indeed, a recent publication (The Inner Level, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, 2019) proposes that high and rising income inequality in society causes individuals to feel stressed and anxious, leading in turn to a rise in addictive behaviour such as alcohol and drug abuse, over-shopping and over-eating.
Every year since 2012, the United Nations has published a Happiness Report which ranks countries by their happiness index. The rankings are based on a survey of residents in participating countries in which they are asked to rate their lives on a scale from 0 to 10. These results are then analysed along with various other factors. The latest Happiness Report released in March, 2019 had New Zealand ranked as number 8 in the world, with the top three being Finland, Norway and Denmark. Australia ranked 10, the USA ranked 18 and the UK ranked 19.
There are six key variables that have been found to support well-being. These are: income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity. Interestingly, it has been found that happiness is not linked to economic growth and in the USA, happiness has declined in recent years despite an increase in economic growth. Growth at all costs is not the answer.