“Negative events that reduce well being actually increase GDP,” says A. J. Senchack, holder of the Lucy King Brown Chair in International Business at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. Hurricane Katrina is a case in point. While this was a personal disaster for hundreds of thousands of citizens, recent figures for the country’s GDP showed a robust growth of 4.1 percent due to the huge medical expenses and rebuilding costs associated with the hurricane. Many other transactions such as crime, divorce and environmental degradation have a similar impact on GDP.

Senchack says that GDP – which has its roots in the 1930s – was never intended to be a direct measure of economic health or well-being. “Our policymakers, economists and the media bestowed that role on it,” he says. Their rationale for doing so, he says, was logical: the more a nation produces and consumes, the wealthier it is. This also means its standard of living becomes higher. Hence, its citizens should be better off or happier.

“But there is a disconnection here,” Senchack says. “Being wealthier simply does not translate into being happier. Many studies show the United States to be no happier than it was 50 years ago; we are no happier than when we were poorer.”

Researchers have recently created a new field of inquiry known as the economics of happiness or well-being. The field is a multidisciplinary one that draws on work in economics, neuroscience, psychology and sociology.

A symposium held at Southwestern University February 9-10 titled “GNP or Gross National Well-Being?” is the first conference in the United States to be devoted entirely to this topic. It is hoped that the symposium will encourage governmental policies to take well-being into account, rather than solely focusing on economic growth.

MEDICA.de; Source: Southwestern University