Gross national happiness

The Second International Conference on Gross National Happiness is taking place in Antigonish this week. The conference is “profiling initiatives around the world that integrate sustainable and equitable economic development with environmental conservation, social and cultural cohesion, and good governance.”

Now, I would be the first person to acknowledge that economic measures are not the ultimate measures of a person’s or a community’s happiness. Happiness or, in Abraham Maslow’s words, self-actualization come from a much broader level of mental and spiritual health.

In fact, I read somewhere sometime that the rate of suicide among millionaires is higher than the general public.

But, and with me there always seems to be a but, economic issues are foundational to happiness. If you are starving, you have less time to focus on more important things.

Maslow recognized this in his hierarchy of needs (that Psychology 101 class does come in handy). He realized that the fundamental, or first level of need is related to economics – food and shelter (physical health). Once that is in place, a person works on emotional health which supports mental health which can lead to spiritual health and self-actualization.

As the environmentalists and anit-globalists meet in Antigonish this week, I hope that they keep this stuff in mind because there is a lesson in here for economic development.

I suggest that, loosely speaking, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs could be applied to a community’s self-actualization. At the first level, we need to a have a strong economic base with a balance of large and small firms offering good paying and positive employment, a climate that fosters entrepreneurs and community leaders committed to ensuring that the economic foundation remains strong.

Once we have that strong economic foundation, and are not distracted by it, we can work on a community’s emotional, mental and spiritual health. Don’t get me wrong this is not a literal or linear thing. The idea here is about the interplay between physical needs and spiritual needs. Sort of like the Preacher trying to save a poor person’s soul while neglecting the fact they are starving.

If we let our traditional industries die.
If we do not stimulate new economic development.
If our rural communities continue to shrink.
If 140,000 New Brunswickers remain on EI and welfare.
If we remain the second least educated province/state in North America.
If we continue to have among the lowest income levels in North America.

…then the road to self-actualization at the community level is more difficult.