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A Reflection on Happiness and Well-being, from Vermont to the World

Recently I had the good fortune of being invited to participate in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) 6th World Forum on Statistics, Knowledge and Policy held in Incheon, South Korea.  I was asked to present the case study of my little state of Vermont’s efforts to integrate components of well-being into policy decision-making processes. Upon receiving this invitation, my immediate reaction was something akin to “Why Vermont?!  We’re such a little place (about 625,000 people total—if I round up!) and what have we accomplished compared against the efforts of multinational institutions engaged in these efforts for decades?  Needless to say, I was overwhelmed.  And maybe a little bit terrified.  But I was also assured that our “little” story was important.

And it turns out, it is.  After listening to keynote speeches from acclaimed practitioners and thought leaders engaged in pushing societies to “measure what matters”, and after speaking with colleagues from around the world- it became apparent to me that the most important thing we must do is to adhere to the saying “Think Globally, Act Locally.”

And in Vermont we are doing just that.  Thanks to efforts of organizations like Gross National Happiness USA and the Gund Institute for the Environment, we are building capacity and authority to identify and measure what matters.  With advocacy from the University of Vermont’s Gund Institute, the State of Vermont passed legislation in 2012 calling for the development and use of the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), an alternative to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) that more accurately accounts for the impacts of growth and development.  The VT GPI was recently incorporated into Vermont’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategies (VT CEDS) report, which was funded by the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

And thanks to the efforts of organizations like Gross National Happiness USA and the University of Vermont’s Center for Rural Studies- a longitudinal well-being data set that is representative to Vermont’s population is being developed to track and analyze Vermonters’ well-being over time. It is our hope that building and presenting data capacity around these holistic measures of well-being will enable decision-makers to consider a broader set of indicators when developing policy for our future.

After meeting people from around the world who are engaged in so many different ways in redefining how we measure well-being, it becomes clear that the work we are doing in little Vermont contributes to the different world we want to see.  Alone, we are just one of the multitudes of communities around the world working toward a shared goal.  Taken together, our shared efforts are advancing the paradigm shifts we seek.  Each and every “little” local action we make contributes to the global change we seek.

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