You’ve heard honesty is the best policy, but when it comes to a nation as a whole, the better policy may be rooted in individual happiness and well-being. Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences is a new annual publication from SAGE Publications, and their recent issue included 33 articles on pressing social issues as they relate to policy, seven of which focused on the effects of greater well-being.

Current policy goals rely heavily on gross national product (GNP) and gross domestic product (GDP). The two together essentially account for national income, and since the 40s, this is how national worth has been measured. However, researchers suggested “pure economic indicators leave out many aspects of life that are central to residents' daily lives.” Coincidentally, this research is published the same time the Legatum Institute released their annual prosperitiy index, in which economy is but one of the eight pillars used to rank 142 countries.

Analyzing existing research, researchers found “self-reported well-being showed validity, being associated with favorable societal conditions such as higher GDP per capita and fewer human rights violations.” While these reports can vary depending on the day and weather, they’ve shown enough reliability to warrant public policy. This makes sense when you consider, say, unemployment. Unemployed individuals are, understandably, less happy than those in a job, yet individuals with better unemployment benefits (see: France) were happier than those with a worse deal.

“More and more developing nations, such as Bhutan are, however, looking for a model of nations that promote citizens’ subjective well-being. … Now that large international surveys routinely include happiness and life satisfaction questions, the information regarding a happy society is available,” researchers wrote.

Such data can be drawn from a recent Gallup poll that found Panama is the happiest country in the world despite the country’s lag in wealth. An additional resource is the United Nation’s World Happiness Report. In 2013, the UN gave the number one spot to Denmark, and generally found “people who are emotionally happier, who have more satisfying lives, and who live in happier communities, are more likely both now and later to be healthy, productive, and socially connected. These benefits in turn flow more broadly to their families, workplaces, and communities, to the advantage of all.”

There's no "unhappiness" in "team," right?

Source: Oishi S, Diener E. Can and Should Happiness Be a Policy Goal? Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 2014.