Home > Features > In pursuit of happiness

In pursuit of happiness

THERE’S NOTHING new about the pursuit of happiness.

ABC Science writer Judy Skatssoon said in her article Hunting for happiness, “We’ve been doing it ever since we started looking for a dry cave and something good to put in our stomachs.

“The ancient Greeks turned happiness into a lifestyle philosophy, with the Epicurean school advocating a simple life and simple pleasures as the key to happiness.”

As Ms Skatssoon said, no matter how we look at it, happiness is serious business.

Governments all over the world are now looking beyond the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to discover the true health of their nations.

The Australian National Development Index (ANDI) project was a resolution of the 2020 Summit in 2008.

The project aims to develop a wellbeing index for Australia that will sit beside the GDP to determine Australia’s health.

UnitingJustice National Director, Rev Elenie Poulos, said the Uniting Church has been part of the project from its very beginning.

Uniting Church’s commitment

“It does what the GDP was never designed to do, and that is to measure our progress in terms of the wellbeing of the nation: how are our health and relationships, how resilient are our communities?

“We think as long as GDP is going up, then our health and wellbeing are going up, but of course that is not how human societies work.”

The Uniting Church got involved after the release of the Economy of Life statement endorsed by the 12th Assembly.

One of the resolutions from that was that the Uniting Church would support the development of a national wellbeing index.

Ms Poulos is also on the National Interim Steering Committee and the Church has been involved in getting the project running including an Assembly contribution.

“It is a community led project, so what counts towards a measurement of wellbeing will develop out of national conversations.”

The project will use current community networks to ask the right questions about what is important to people.

They will then come up with a series of domains (e.g. health care), then break each domain down into sections that people have said are important.

Public Policy

“In the long run we hope it will become an advocacy tool for improving public policy,” said Ms Poulos.

“Normally we are responding to public policy that runs on media cycles and three-year electoral cycles.

“This is a project that can make a difference that I believe will eventually embed itself in our communal way of seeing our world.”

She said the Church’s intention was to make faith and spirituality an integral part of the ANDI project “We’ve spoken a lot with our partner organisations, key academics and the ABS about spiritual wellbeing and how important that is. The questions are about how we measure that.”

“We’re not the only faith-based organisation involved. So the aspect of spiritual wellbeing and other things that are priorities for faith communities (how we treat the most vulnerable people in our communities), we will have a great opportunity to make those things a part of the index.

“ANDI is not going to be economics free either because the economy is really important to our wellbeing. There’s a lot more about how our economy functions that we need to take account of.”

The ANDI project is based on the Canadian index which has been going for 9 years.

“I have described ANDI as a legacy project for the Uniting Church. The fact that we are in on the ground floor of something that has so much potential to make a long-term difference is a really encouraging thing.”

Improving happiness and wellbeing

Griffith University Associate Professor Geoff Woolcock is involved in the Griffith University Urban Research Program looking into the development of Community Indicators Queensland (CIQ) for improved wellbeing.

In an opinion piece for The Good Life Conference in 2009, he reminded people that the church plays an important role.

“Uniting Church President Rev Gregor Henderson preaching at a service to mark opening of Parliament urged federal parliamentarians to broaden Australia’s fundamental national goals beyond that of economic growth – ‘It is but one part of what leads to human happiness – other components are the quality of our relationships, the beauty of our environment, the pursuit of justice and equity, enjoyment of the arts, realisation of our individual giftedness, and of course our spiritual wellbeing’,” said Mr Woolcock.