The Economics of Happiness

“The Economics of Happiness” Debuts in Seattle

“We look around and what do we see? We see businesses going on as usual; we see governments – at best – thinking four years down the road when they really need to be thinking seven generations down the road. We need positive visions for humanity and the planet.”

“Around the world I actually see more hope than hopelessness.”

“The future with less oil could be preferable to the present with lots of oil.”

These three quotes are the opening lines of a new documentary film, “The Economics of Happiness” by Helena Norberg-Hodge and others from the International Society for Ecology and Culture.

The world premiere showing of the film was held at Seattle’s Town Hall in January (and re-shown by Wallingford Meaningful Movies in February). A panel discussion featuring producer Helena Norberg-Hodge, authors David Korten, John de Graaf, Rev. Robert L. Jeffrey Sr., and Yes! Magazine Executive Director Fran Korten followed the screening.

More than 20 Northwest organizations, including the Seattle Buddhist Peace Fellowship, sponsored and promoted the premier showing. In the greater Seattle area we are fortunate to have such a great wealth of organizational talent promoting positive futures, environmental sustainability, local food, business, and energy, social justice, and compassionate action.

“The Economics of Happiness” looks deeply at the effects of the global economy on society in both the developed and the less developed world. By recognizing that what we call economics is culturally and ideologically specific, the film shows how that ideology has led us into profound environmental and spiritual crises. But the film does not stop at criticism – it also shows efforts throughout the world that promote more local, sustainable, and equitable patterns of living.

For the past 35 years, filmmaker Helena Norberg-Hodge has lived, at least part-time, in Ladakh, India’s northern-most state high in the Himalayas on the border with Tibet. She has seen first-hand the consequences of globalization. Up to the 1970s Ladakhis lived a traditional agrarian culture that had no unemployment, no hunger, no poverty, no homelessness – the most striking thing about their society was how genuinely happy the people appeared. (See Norberg-Hodge’s book “Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh”.)

Then Ladakh was opened to “development” with subsidized roads, subsidized foreign food and fuel, and corporate advertising that extolled Western life-styles. Within less than one generation Ladakhis (especially the young) had come to think of their way of life as backward. Today pollution, unemployment, poverty, and even homelessness are prevalent.

The systemic economic forces that would have us prefer to amass corporately produced goods over living more simply and sustainably are affecting not only the Ladakhis – they dominate the lives of all of us. “The Economics of Happiness” brings together opinions from well known experts throughout the world to examine our economic situation. Included are Buddhist scholars (Samdhong Rinpoche, Kyentse Norbu Rinpoche), environmental activists (Vandana Shiva, Bill McKibben), politicians (Gavin Newsom, Mayor of San Francisco; Zac Goldsmith, British Parliament) and economic analysts (Juliet Schor, David Korten), plus many others.

Despite the depth and difficulty of our economic problems the film takes a fairly optimistic view of our possible futures. As David Korten points out, “In the end the only power that any of these institutions of empire have is the power we as citizens yield to them.” The film shows many ways that people are taking action for local empowerment and community, including community farming, local currencies, the transition town movement, credit unions, decentralized energy production, and the celebration of local identity and knowledge.

As with many documentaries “The Economics of Happiness” has a tendency to preach, but it also incorporates ideas rarely raised in conversations about economics, such as the interdependence of our economic and spiritual lives and how our economic ideology based on individualism and greed are at the root of many of today’s most serious challenges.

This is a film that can stimulate worthwhile, constructive conversations in our community about our vision for the future and the decisions we need to make so that vision can become a reality in our lives. The mindful dialogue needed for new directions continues and “The Economics of Happiness” can help.

As Norberg-Hodge says at the end of the film,“At the deepest level localization is about connection. It’s about re-establishing our sense of interdependence with others and with the natural world. And this connection is a fundamental human need.”

For more information about film sponsors, to check for future screenings and to get the DVD when it becomes available go to:

Contributor: David Berrian.
Photo: Courtesy of The Economics of Happiness.