In this how-to on building genuine wealth, economist Mark Anielski examines our current measures of wealth and develops a more practical model encompassing health, relationships, and meaningful work.
We all know that money can't buy you love...or happiness, but we have been living our lives as though the accumulation of wealth is the key to our dreams... Why do our measures of economic progress not reflect the values that make us happy: supportive relationships, meaningful work, a healthy environment, and our spiritual well-being? In The Economics of Happiness (New Society Publishers, 2007), economist Mark Anielski develops a new and practical economic model called Genuine Wealth, to measure the real determinants of well-being and help redefine progress.
Personal Genuine Wealth
Genuine wealth lies within you. Each of us is unique in our skills, capacities, aspirations and dreams. Each one of us has a unique life’s journey towards our own inner genuine wealth. Your own story could fill this chapter if not an entire book.
Too often we look for meaning and fulfillment outside of ourselves. We may hope to find happiness in money, material possessions or expectations that other people will bring us genuine happiness or an authentic life. I have learned that true peace, joy and love come from my inner teacher, my soul and spirit. Doing a Genuine Wealth Assessment means looking deep within your heart for the real you.
A personal Genuine Wealth Assessment means looking in the mirrors of light and dark. In the light mirror we examine what we love about ourselves and what others love about us. In the dark mirror, we look at the things we don’t like about ourselves or what others dislike about us. We may agree or disagree with what we see, but these mirror images help to create a complete and honest profile of our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being.
Conducting a Personal Genuine Wealth Assessment
A personal Genuine Wealth Assessment takes a 360-degree perspective on our personal, professional, environmental, social and financial well-being. We identify strengths and areas needing improvement in our personal lives (love, spirituality, physical fitness, diet) as well as the strengths and weaknesses of our professional and work life, our physical environment (e.g. our household and our work place) and our financial and material wealth. We need to ask ourselves: what makes life worthwhile? what makes us happy, inside? what do we value most about life?
We might define our five Genuine Wealth assets according to skills, capabilities, dreams and relationships. For example, our Genuine Wealth account might include:
• Our happiness with life
• Our physical, mental and spiritual health
• Meaningful and satisfying work
• Healthy eating and lifestyle
• Loving relationships with our spouse, children, and family
• Belonging to organizations, clubs and associations with others
• Quality time for personal reflection, prayer and “smelling the roses”
• Financial security
• Enjoying the wonders of nature
Each of us will define “the good life” from our own unique perspective and experience.
The purpose is to be fully in touch with our gifts and our values. What do you love about life? What would you change? What agreements have you made with yourself in the past that hinder you from celebrating your real wealth, the real you? Have fun with these questions; sit down and write out all the things you would like to improve as well as areas of your life you would like to heal. A Genuine Wealth Assessment is about connecting with your inner teacher, going deeper and peeling back the onion of your life so far. Moreover, it’s about both giving and receiving; some may have difficulties giving of our gifts while others struggle with receiving the gifts of others. Living genuinely we celebrate our own and each others’ gifts.
Taking the Personal Genuine Wealth Survey
In Chapter 5, we learned from the emerging science of happiness that there are three key determinants of well-being:
1. Our parents, our upbringing, and our childhood experience
2. Our social relationships and recreational activities in community
3. Our current economic situation, including our income, material possessions and education.
Find a quiet place where you can be reflective and get in touch with your inner self, your heart and soul. Let’s consider some detailed questions based on these key contributors to well-being and happiness.
Your overall quality of life
Q1. What are the most important values in your life? What makes life worthwhile for you?
Q2. Overall, how would you rate your quality of life, from poor to excellent?
Q3. What is going well in your life right now?
Q4. What is not going well in your life right now?
Q5. What areas of your life would you like to improve today?
Q6. Overall, how would you rate your level of happiness?
Q7. Are you happy with your spiritual life?
Q8. Do you ever feel depressed?
Q9. If you’ve felt depressed sometimes, very often or all the time, have you ever considered suicide?
Q10. If you said you felt depressed sometimes, very often or all the time, have you ever taken medication?
Q11. Thinking of your childhood (age 0–12), how would you rate the quality of your life, from terrible to excellent?
Q12. How would you rate your teenage years (ages 13–19)?; your young adult years (ages 20–29)?; your adult years (ages 30–39); your mature adult years (ages 40–49)?; your seasoned adult years (ages 50–64); your golden years (65+ years)?
Q13. Do you come from a home where your parents separated or divorced?
Q14. Have you ever physically, mentally or emotionally abused another person?
Social activities and relationships
Q15. Do you spend enough time with your family?
Q16. Do you have enough quality time for yourself (e.g. recreation, reading, praying, thinking/dreaming)?
Q17. How often do you take an overnight vacation?
Q18. Do you get enough sleep, i.e. do you feel rested and rejuvenated when you awake?
Q19.How often do you socialize with people outside your immediate family?
Q20. Do you belong to a social group, church/religious group or other social organizations?
Q21. How often do you do physical exercise in a week?
Q22. Do you find your work rewarding and meaningful?
Q23. Do you like your job?
Q24. On average how many hours per week do you work?
Love of life
Q25. Do feel you are living life to the fullest?
Q26. What do you love most about your life currently?
Current life circumstances
Q27. What is your current marital status (single, married, cohabiting with a
partner, divorce, remarried)?
Q28. How would you describe your relationship with your spouse or partner?
Q29. How would you describe your relationship with your immediate family?
Q30. How many close friends do you have?
Income and material possessions
Q31. Do you feel you are earning a sufficient and living wage?
Q32. Do you feel you have enough material possessions for the quality of life your desire?
Your physical environment
Q33. Do you live within walking distance of green space (e.g. parks, open spaces, walking trails)?
Q34. How often do your walk or ride your bike to work, to the store and to meetings?
Q35. What is your ecological footprint (Take an Ecological Footprint survey and find out how much of the earth you consume every year to meet your needs.) What can you and your household do to reduce your footprint?
Q36. Do you like the neighborhood where you live?
Q37. Do you trust your neighbors?
Q38. How long have you lived in your current neighborhood?
Q39. How many times have you moved homes in your lifetime?
This survey is just the beginning of celebrating your genuine wealth. Have fun with it. Share your findings with your partner, your kids and your friends. Consider the questions as the basis of writing your own story.
What the Inuit taught me about genuine wealth
I have had the good fortune of working with many wise indigenous peoples over the past few years. I have helped them assess their own genuine wealth, celebrating their gifts and the gifts of nature, which are so abundant. My most important teachers have been the Inuit, of Nunavut in Canada’s Eastern Arctic.
Many indigenous cultures of North America see a person holistically in the shape of a wheel or circle. Within that circle, the human is composed of four attributes: mental, spiritual, emotional and physical. An Inuit elder taught me how important it is for each of us to have the right balance of these four attributes so that we go through life with genuine integrity. A healthy person is one who finds the right harmony and balance on the journey through life. However, each person is free to choose how to use her or his respective gifts. No person is the same, since each will have a unique set of attributes, volition and path to walk. Any imbalance in one’s wheel suggests that one’s walk may be wobbly or that one element in life is not as complete or full as it could be. To walk the path in harmony and integrity is to live according to all the gifts you were given and all the being that you are.
The Inuit (their name, in their own language, which means “the people”) taught me that in order for their culture to survive and flourish in the harsh climate of the north a set of core skills, competencies or assets are required. These skills are held individually but shared collectively; the illustration shows the range of everything critical for the good life, depicted again as a wheel, emphasizing balance, harmony and complimentarity. No one competency is more important than another. In Inuit culture an individual and society is fully formed when they are endowed with a full set of core competencies or skills. The health or integrity of an individual or community can be assessed in terms of the capacity (wealth) of individuals and families in a community to have knowledge or skills to practice these core competencies with fluency. What is remarkable about this inventory of genuine wealth is the range of attributes and aptitudes. A fully endowed individual has some knowledge or skill capacity in each of the 10 core competencies that would then contribute to the collective well-being of a community or society. How many of us in affluent southern communities would or even could count these skills as assets?
What was immediately apparent to me is that these are the basic skills for living sustainably. The Inuit have long understood that the strength of their communities depends on the capacities of one or more individuals to be a good hunter, a good singer, a good healer, a good storyteller and a good builder of igloos, dog sleds or utensils. All skills are needed to flourish and to be self-sufficient. Yet relationship with the land, nature and wildlife is also important. The Inuit had no history of counting (numeracy) or literacy (writing or reading). Their traditions, knowledge and wisdom came from direct relationship and experience with nature and with each other in social environments, and were passed down from one generation to the next through an oral tradition of storytelling.
The family is the central economic unit of Inuit culture. It is from the family that knowledge, skills and wisdom (isuma) is developed and sustained through generations. According to the study of Inuit values by Jaypeetee Arnakak of Iqualuit, the traditional Inuit family plays the following economic roles:
• The family is the primary life support system for all its members
• The family is a node in a larger dynamic social network — part of a varied web of contacts and commitments
• The family is the primary means of transferring ever-evolving knowledge, skills and values that are essential for producing contributing members to families and society
• The family is the fundamental unit of economic activity in traditional Inuit society1
Like other human families, Inuit families are formed by sharing knowledge, skills, wisdom and culture. It is the network and interrelationships of families in community which form Inuit society. This cooperative reliance, unlike the individualistic approach of western economies, has allowed the Inuit to flourish and sustain their quality of life. The Inuit also have a close relationship with nature, the land and animals.
In addition to the core competencies of an individual, there are also social skills that are critical for ensuring a healthy community and cohesive society:
• Interpersonal/socialization skills: teaching; childrearing; cheerfulness; empathy; sense of responsibility to others; sensitivity to body language and social cues; social cohesiveness.
• Leadership/decision making skills: judgment; arbitration; proficiency at inspiring and mentoring others; sensitivity to others’ perspectives; ability to find compromise and reconcile conšicts; ability to maintain peaceful relations within the community.
• Healing/life transition skills: midwifery; herbal knowledge; ability to perceive and guide people through passages of life (birth, marriage, family, illness, old age, death)
• Transpersonal/transcendent skills: intuition; deeply nuanced insights; sensitivity to past/future events; comprehension of overall life patterns; psychic/metaphysical connection to people/animals/nature.2
Measuring actual knowledge or skill capacity with respect to these core social competencies presents an important measurement challenge to economists. Many indicators would elude objective measurement like surveys or statistics and would require qualitative descriptions like storytelling. But I believe there would be great value in conducting a Genuine Wealth Assessment using the Inuit or other indigenous models of the nature of human being.
Why not ask the children?
My children are perhaps my greatest teachers on how to understand genuine wealth. Kids are naturally curious, and they ask the most penetrating and arresting questions about why things are as they are.
In recent years I’ve come to know Raffi Cavoukian, the troubadour who entertained children throughout the 1980s and 1990s with songs like “Baby Beluga” and “Bananaphone” which captured children’s hearts and imaginations. Raffi and I have become friends since first meeting at a Canadian Society for Ecological Economics (CANSEE) conference. At the time I was Vice- President of CANSEE and hosting a conference which brings together ecological economists from across Canada and around the world. Our subject was measuring sustainability and measuring what matters. Raffi accepted my invitation to open the conference with two of his new inspirational songs for adults.
The room full of economists loved Raffi’s songs and his passionate call for a “child-honouring society.” A parent then asked if I would consider involving the children of attendees in any sessions, particularly with Raffi. I jumped at the idea and Raffi joined me in a dialogue with the kids-of-the-conference about what mattered most to them and their happiness. Their responses were, as you can imagine, spontaneous and wonderful.
When asked “what makes you happy inside?” the kids (who ranged from 3 to 15 years in age) responded: the sun, kindness, good food, dogs, spending time with my family, dancing, singing, bugs and chocolate. When we asked them “what is the strongest thing in the world?” they told us: God, a tree, love and honesty. When we asked “what kind of world do you want to live in?” they told us: “I wish our world was safe,” “I wish there were no more wars,” and “I wish no animals got killed.” The kids told us, from their hearts, what mattered most to them. When we presented the kids’ session results to the larger conference audience they were struck by their honesty. Our kids were challenging us to value things that make life worthwhile.
The Economics of Happiness was reprinted with permission by Mark Anielski and published by New Society Publishers, 2007.