Have you also seen the exponential surge of Wellness and Wellbeing courses, coaches, workshop, retreats, etc.?
COVID-19 is forcing us to rethink our wellbeing, however, we have crashed to the wall: Happiness is expensive, this is the case of Europe.
For some of us who come from the global south, we find the concept of happiness as a commodity, extremely weird and complex, more related to the industrialised world than a universal value. Now, everyone wants access to happiness, but none dare to challenge the status quo of an accumulation based society anxious by consumerism:
Like working out harder to lose weight but keep eating pizza every night.
You are paying more for “happiness” than taxes.
Recently, a study was released about how expensive is Happiness in Europe, published by Mckinsey: The pandemic’s negative impact on well-being in April was up to 3.5 times the losses experienced in GDP; This means, for every euro lost due to the economic burden, 3 euros were lost due to life-dissatisfaction.1
For example, If you are earning a salary of 2,700 euros per month, the economic collapse due to COVID-19 wiped out on average 540 euros of that salary, but your life-dissatisfaction wiped out 1,620 euros, transforming your real salary into 1,080 euros per month or a cut of 60% of your salary!1
Happiness is expensive in Europe and getting more and more expensive. If you embed this, into the ecological footprint of every European country, consuming 3 up to 9 countries available resources, or per capita: 2.8 planets for satisfying the European consumer2, turns out that European happiness is expensive, luxury, exclusive and an unsustainable goal, near 10 times more expensive than any other human in the world (Except USAmericans).
Furthermore, if you consider the high addiction of alcohol and drugs in Europe, 200% higher than in the global south countries 3, you start to draw a better picture of the problem:
OurExpensive, Destructive and Non-sustainable life-dissatisfaction for ourselves and the planet.
What about the world happiness report? Well, it just confirms it.
Even the WHP, where Europe ranks on top, acknowledges this: Industrialised societies relies mainly on GDP and income for their life-satisfaction, reducing happiness to a simple commodity.
Unlike the Happy Planet Index, placing ourecological footprint and personal wellbeing as the key components of life satisfaction, ranking on top the countries close to the Ecuador.
Communities around the world are begging rich countries to reduce consumption, and learn how to live happier and sustainably, like the campaign from the Himalayas #ILiveSimply, where people highly hit by climate change, are joining to call the world in a single shot out:
“Please live simply, so others can simply live¨
Now we see funded research, training, certifications, workshops, etc. An army of persons is trying to incorporate wellbeing to their everyday life, but at the same time, they find themselves caught in a complex system based on high consumption fuelled by an anxious economy.
As a foreigner in this land, I often face the same feeling when another foreigner goes to my country and I find out that people still buy water in plastic bottles for survival.
Water is a human right, and it should be available cost-free. Can happiness be considered as essential as water for our existence?
I want to believe that all this wellbeing, wellness and happiness movement in Europe and industrial countries are based in an inside-out transformation for the well of our relationship with ourselves and our planet, but numbers say otherwise, maybe moments of happiness will become another commodity in this accumulation-based society.
In only a few weeks of reduced physical exercise, heightened stress and anxiety, limited access to diagnostics and care are likely to have longer-term health consequences for every European resident, which eventually will turn out in a public health issue and a priority for policymakers.
How can policymakers design real wellbeing policies after a long tradition of enlightenment and individual responsibility?
How can governments think not only beyond GDP but activities, incentives and metrics for a mentally healthy society? Is possible a European policy on living happily with less? Happiness is expensive and is getting out of control.
Furthermore, how can Europe think about holistic development and personal wellbeing in the middle of a technological war where Europe has decided to stand up and oil the economic machinery as a geopolitical strategy, putting even more pressure to its taxpayers (aka citizens).
It´s an unknown territory where there is no book or manual written, where it´s finally time to open our minds into a more holistic approach on the development, more human and less economical, on how other cultures live more prosperous with less impact in their mental health and the health of the planet.
A New Formula of Happiness. Our development framework.
After more than 10 years of working in more than 20 countries across 4 continents, and having a sensitive understanding of what the most satisfying cultures have in common,
I have summed them up in 3 easy goals: the Humanity Development Goals (HDGs), an inside-out invitation to rethink development in a holistic way rather than a single policy intervention. The HDGs complement and go beyond The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
1. Mckinsey Group. Report: Well-being in Europe: Addressing the high cost of COVID-19 on life satisfaction: https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/europe/well-being-in-europe-addressing-the-high-cost-of-covid-19-on-life-satisfaction
2. Footprint Network Report 2019.
3. Our World in Data. https://www.footprintnetwork.org/content/uploads/2019/05/WWF_GFN_EU_Overshoot_Day_report.pdf
“Because mindsets and paradigms guide behaviors, changing them can have a profound impact… People who manage to intervene in systems at the level of paradigm hit a leverage point that totally transform systems.” — Donna Meadows, lead author, Limits to Growth²
1. Beyond GDP: Towards SDGs and Wellbeing.
While development efforts showcase success stories, such as the decrease in the number of people living in extreme poverty, the current paradigm is unable to fully explain successes and failures of development interventions. As we increasingly live beyond our planetary boundaries, inequality and mental health issues have been rising, and happiness and wellbeing remain elusive for many around the world.
Furthermore, given the number of crises — from climate change to COVID19 — alongside the ambitious nature of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), there is an urgent need to investigate the effectiveness of the 20th-century human development paradigm for the 21st century.
While the current human development approach shifted the development focus from Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to a somewhat broader perspective some 30 years ago, we have not made major progress since to truly advance human development in a holistic manner.
Calls for a more holistic human development paradigm are supported by the Beyond GDP movement as well as other wellbeing initiatives around the world,³ and the need has also been recognized by the United Nations’ General Assembly (resolution 65/309: Happiness: towards a holistic approach to development, 2011). Global mindsets are very similar to paradigms in that they are the source of manifesting systems. As Achim Steiner, UNDP’s Administrator stated:
“We are now on the verge of shifting into an economic paradigm that is not about communism or capitalism; it is about recalibrating equity and sustainability into a development paradigm.” ⁴
2. Key Questions
Based on the need to rethink human development, the following key questions come to mind:
How can we shift towards a holistic development mindset that advances physical, emotional, mental and spiritual wellbeing?
Are we willing to leapfrog to an enlightened paradigm that recognizes and develops humans as multi-dimensional beings?
How to harmoniously advance the wellbeing of both people and the planet?
We protect and develop what we cherish, what we feel part of and connected with. Therefore, how can we nurture three essential connections: with our inner being, our communities and Mother Nature? The opportunity to create a new paradigm for the 21st century comes from combining current science with timeless wisdom. Could the root causes and transformative power of human development be within us?
3. Inspiration from Bhutan
Some countries have not fallen into the trap of blindly pursuing GDP and materialistic growth. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) awarded Bhutan with a Special Award of Recognition for holistically advancing human development in 2019.⁵ Bhutan famously declared Gross National Happiness (GNH) to be more important than GDP.
GNH is a holistic and sustainable approach to development, which is based on 9 pillars that balance material and non-material values.
It is noteworthy that GNH is not to be confused with a shallow understanding of fleeting happiness. Rather, GNH is a multi-dimensional approach which some argue is more holistic than the SDGs, given that it also entails dimensions such as psychological wellbeing, time use, community vitality, amongst others. The COVID19 crisis has amplified the importance of mental health.
Even before the crisis began, a staggering 800,000 people die due to suicide every year globally.⁶
Furthermore, Bhutan is heralded as a global example of a carbon-negative country that lives in harmony with nature. It is a biodiversity hotspot and is often seen as a leader in sustainable tourism. Its strong emphasis on health and protecting communities is seen as a success factor and has allowed the country to notably handle the COVID19 crisis.
It is evident that Bhutan’s enlightened development approach and leadership has led to extraordinary poverty reduction while protecting the environment.⁷
“Our generation is called upon to rethink, to redefine the true purpose of growth and, in doing so, to find a growth that is truly sustainable.
We must never forget that, for lasting peace and happiness in this world, the journey forward has to be one that we must all make together… It all starts with leadership of the self”.⁸— His Majesty the 5th King of Bhutan, 2011
4. The Blind Spot: Mindsets
The strong focus of development assistance on external factors and measurable progress has left aside an understanding of internal factors and potential hidden root causes. Internal factors such as mindsets can play a transformative role in people’s, nations’ and humanity’s development journey.
While there has been researching on behavioural insights, self-empowerment, personal development, leadership and transformation in some specialized fields such as psychology, sociology, philosophy and neuroscience, there has been no — or minimal — direct connections made to human development approaches. There is indeed a significant knowledge gap on inner dimensions, which are more difficult to measure — such as people’s mindsets.
These ‘soft’ inner factors have, so far, not been well considered in the field of human development, in contrast to ‘hard’ indicators such as income levels, life expectancy and years of education.
This underscores the need for a new holistic approach that takes the interaction between internal and external factors into account, for development to be transformative and advance sustainable wellbeing for people and planet. As Nobel peace prize winner Prof. Muhammad Yunus illuminates: “Unless we change our mind we cannot change the world.” ⁹
5. The Key Role of Mindsets
Mindsets are the invisible leverage point to be included in a new 21st-century human development paradigm. Mindsets are made up of our deep beliefs, attitudes and values; they frame our thinking and therefore determine our behaviour, life experiences and journey.
They influence how people lead their lives, how they vote, what personal, educational and professional opportunities they pursue, and what they make out of crises, challenges and opportunities. Even national policies and global development goals spring off national and global mindsets.
For example, during the COVID19 crisis, we can perceive staying at home as being forced into lock-down or consider it as voluntarily protecting our vulnerable elderly. Mindsets are not, of course, a panacea and external factors should not be negated altogether.
However, by acknowledging the role of inner dimensions, foremost mindsets, we emphasize the agency that people have in realizing their true human potential. History is full of change-makers and social leaders who have overcome and changed their external circumstances and structures and therefore written history.
6. Need for a Global Mindset Shift: Holistic Development for Planetary Wellbeing.
It is widely accepted that the SDGs cannot be achieved by business as usual. For behaviour and actions to be different, they require a new way of thinking, a new mindset and a sense of urgency for transformational change. The urgency to shift towards a development paradigm that finally translates the ‘beyond-GDP’ aspiration into a wellbeing and sustainability mindset with its corresponding concept and measurements are increasing.¹⁰
In systems thinking and leadership, shifting mindsets is considered the highest leverage point to change a system, even higher than policies and goals. Shifting the global mindset towards a wellbeing economy can be inspired by examples from Bhutan, Costa Rica and New Zealand, amongst others.
This indeed also reflects the call by UN Deputy Secretary-General for a “New paradigm shift to replace the traditional sustainable development approach to realize the 2030 Agenda”.¹¹
7. Suggestions for Mindset Shifts.
While we are largely unaware of mindsets due to their intangible nature, mindsets can be changed. Pressing issues such as greed, violence and discrimination also start in our mind, and in the minds and hearts are the keys to transformational development.
Six mindset shifting suggestions:
1. Sustainable transformation happens from the inside out. 2. Mindsets matter. They play an important role in human development at the individual, collective and global level. 3. Mindsets can be shifted by increasing awareness, fostering self-reflection and self-responsibility. 3. Solutions need to be co-created which requires a mindset shift of development practitioners themselves. 4. Current development approaches are too materialistic; therefore they need to move beyond overly focusing on GDP and economic development. 5. A new holistic development paradigm should include inner, collective and planetary wellbeing.
While the above-mentioned points indicate the important role of mindsets, there is a blind spot in the academic and development literature. This calls for further research exploring the role that mindsets play in human development, towards sustainability, transformation and wellbeing for people and planet.
About the Author:
Jürgen Nagler is the UNDP Deputy Resident Representative in Bhutan. He has over 20 years’ experience in successfully delivering global, regional and field projects with the UNDP, UN Global Compact, international NGOs and private sector.
He joined the United Nations after a 10-year career with international companies and founding an international grassroots NGO. He completed first-class Bachelors in Business Administration (Germany) and Masters in International Development (Australia).
Jürgen has a passion for transformative development towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and is researching the role of mindsets for holistic human development, in a personal capacity. Jürgen can be contacted at jjnagler[at]gmail.com.
This article was originally published for the International Science Council and UNDP’s Human Development Report Office global experts’ call for new perspectives on human development.
Forthcoming Study on Mindsets
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Addendum: Wellbeing Mindset
What is a wellbeing mindset? Following the publication of this article, I’ve developed the following working definition, feedback welcome: “A wellbeing mindset means the whole of attitudes, believes and values of a person or group of people that fosters wellbeing. Wellbeing of a person, group of people, the whole of humanity, other sentient beings such as animals, and/or planet Earth.”
1. Attributed to multiple wisdom teachers, foremost the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. See a similar translation for the Buddha at Easwaran, Eknath (2007), “The Dhammapada: Classics of Indian Spirituality.”
2. Meadows, Donella (1999). “Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System.”
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