Facebook, “Gross National Happiness,” and… Sustainable Business?


Is it possible to establish the overall mood of a nation? Apparently it is–if you’re Facebook (FB). The popular social networking site recently developed a new app by which it aims to determine its users’ “gross national happiness.” By searching public and semi-public FB forums for words and phrases deemed “happy,” “sad,” or “indifferent” by FB engineers, the app charts the overriding sentiments of its 300-million-a-day users. Could FB’s findings be relevant to a study on green business growth?

The app’s results, reported in a fastcompany.com blog entry, are fascinating. Apparently, Americans’ happiness levels are somewhat predictable: they sink on Mondays, rise slowly through the workweek, peak on weekend days (and holidays – especially Thanksgiving), and drop again on Monday. This year, there was a sudden drop in late June, presumably coincident with the death of Michael Jackson.

(Image from NewScientist.com)

The fastcompany.com blogger also mentions attempts by an economist (Joseph Stiglitz) and a Bhutan monarch to emphasize well-being over financial growth in measuring a nation’s progress. (Stiglitz advocated a metric for such a measurement, while the monarch of Bhutan – a famously spiritual but impoverished country – actually invented the phrase “Gross National Happiness.”)

What is the relevance of “gross national happiness” to sustainable development? The link between a country’s actual (not just financial) wellbeing, economic health, and degree of sustainability is clear. By way of illustration, Forbes.com reports that, in the “World’s Happiest Places” report for 2009, Denmark, Finland, and the Netherlands ranked first, second, and third, respectively. (This report evaluates places where people feel most positive about their lives, the Forbes blogger says.) While a nation’s overall economic health did play a role in its residents’ happiness, wealth alone did not necessarily guarantee their contentment. Instead, family, social, and community networks played a role, as did being gainfully employed and maintaining work-life balance. I would argue that all of these factors are part of an ideal sustainable business model.

That said, here’s the kicker: does a nation’s level of contentment (i.e. the levels reported by Facebook’s app) have any bearing on that nation’s tendency toward or capacity for sustainable growth? If a nation’s “Gross Happiness Level” is on the downswing, will the nation be able to pool the resources necessary for building green business? Or is fine-tuning the economy a prerequisite for boosting the national mood? And, can a mood-measuring website app really reflect a country’s level of satisfaction?

What are your thoughts on the matter?

Sarah Harper is a professional writer based in San Francisco, California. Her interests include sustainability, government policy, and international politics. In her free time, Sarah enjoys toying with the idea of holistic health, overanalysis, and plotting world exploration.

4 responses

  1. I think it’s important that facebook is just that… part of a public FACE… the comments posted on facebook are filtered by the users sense of public image. So, it’s good to see that we American’s are a happy bunch, but I would suggest that this really only implies that we talk about our happiness a lot… whether or not that discussion is based in reality is still up for debate. It’s just like smiling for the camera right after your sister pulled your hair and your mom made you put on an ugly sweater… you put on the smile but that isn’t the reality. Facebook is only measuring the picture that facebook users are willing to present.

  2. I agree with Autumn – it’s absurd to use facebook to try to track this sort of thing. How many people use Facebook in Bhutan anyway? I’ll bet California tracks especially high, but behind every “Ohmigod!! I’m so happy!! LOL!!” comment you’re as likely to find a dour soul as a genuinely happy, well rounded, individual.

    Then again, measuring happiness is not exactly easy so even when non-scientific analysis like these are performed, if they provoke interesting conversation and get people to question what truly matters, then I’m all for it!

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