At times, the economy resembles our own personal choices. The recession that began exactly one year ago has demonstrated the bankruptcy of a system whose sole goal has become material gain, betraying fundamental values such as integrity, compassion, and justice. The same thing often happens in our personal lives when we place our own material success before our values.

A very lovely voice once rose up to describe what happens to a country when it's dedicated solely to the growth of its gross national product.


"Too much and for too long, we seem to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things.  Our 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 fight the riots in our cities... 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 officials.  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."

Those lines were written by Robert Kennedy during his 1968 election campaign, a few months before he was assassinated in Los Angeles. Today, a group of Anglo-American economists - together with the French economist  Patrick Viveret – are urging that the success of our societies should be measured by the well-being of their citizens rather than by their production of weapons or construction of prisons. [1, 2] In studying what really makes people happy, they have come up with precise recommendations -- daily behaviors and activities that don't consume material goods, and which are relatively recession-proof. Each of us can do what we can -- with the help of our governments -- to make them a more frequent part of our lives, regardless of the state of the economy.

1.     Connect with others. Invest in human relationships with family members, friends, colleagues at work, neighbors. Look on them as the foundations of your life. They will enrich and support you more and more every day.

2.     Be active. Walk and run. Bike. Play football. Garden. Dance. Find a way to move your body that's fun and agreable to you. When the body is active, it manufactures happiness.

3.      Sharpen your awareness of the present moment. Be curious. Observe what is beautiful or unusual. Savor the moment that you're living in right now, whether you're lunching with a friend or walking to work. Be conscious of what's around you and what you feel in your body, your emotions, your thoughts. Note what counts for most in your day.

4.     Never stop learning. Try something new. Take up singing lessons, tango, cooking, drawing. Fix yourself a goal that you'd like to meet. Then get there.

5.     Give of yourself. Do something to help someone -- a friend, or even a stranger. Smile in the subway. Volunteer at a charity. Imagine that your personal happiness is inextricably linked to the happiness of your community. Activate the pleasure zones in the deepest part of your brain.

It's amazing that we needed a worldwide recession to nudge such simple and eternal values into our social debate. But the Chinese ideogram for "crisis" means both "danger" and "opportunity" -- right?


BIBLIOGRAPHY
1.           New_Economics_Foundation, National Accounts of Well-being: bringing real wealth onto the balance sheet. 2009, New Economics Foundation: London, U.K. www.nationalaccountsofwellbeing.org
2.           Viveret, P., Reconsiderer la richesse. 2008, Paris: Poche.