EDMONTON – There's an old adage, "Money doesn't buy happiness."
If not money, then what does buy happiness? Offering a roadmap towards flourishing economies of well-being is Mark Anielski, an alternative economist who teaches corporate social responsibility and social entrepreneurship at the University of Alberta's School of Business.
He is an expert in measuring the sustainable well-being of communities, businesses and nations, having developed the Genuine Wealth model and Genuine Progress Indicators as well-being evaluation tools.
"The science of happiness is firmly grounded in things like your relationships and your upbringing, and very little on how much money we make or our education," said Anielski.
Anielski was a panel speaker at the Bissell Centre's Putting Poverty Behind Us symposium, held Oct. 6 in conjunction with the Bissell Centre's 100th anniversary.
A Catholic who regularly attends St. Joseph's College Chapel, Anielski sees faith as an important part of the quest for human happiness.
His book, The Economics of Happiness, is partially rooted in the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas and Pope John Paul II, specifically on building a civilization of love. The Focolare Movement represents an idealized model of the theories presented in his book. Focolare focuses on sharing, reciprocity, cooperation and working together in harmony.
"The idea is that we can reorient our whole economy towards focusing on the real origins of the word 'economics,' which is household stewardship. In my book there is a stewardship theme, which is biblical," said Anielski.
He cites the writing of an economist from the 1930s, Amitore Fanfani, author of Catholicism, Protestantism and Capitalism. Fanfani maintained that capitalism is similar to organized religion in that it has a "theology" based on the principle of wealth accumulation without consideration for one's neighbour.
"We say that's normal. It's on every billboard - consume and you'll be happy. Don't worry about the effects on nature, and no one is accountable for those things because it's your divine right to material wealth," said Anielski.
At the Bissell Centre forum, he said genuine wealth attempts to measure all the things that make life worthwhile. There are known contributors to happiness and well-being that individuals, businesses and countries should be tracking, not just household incomes, profits and Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The five main categories of wealth whose integration constitutes genuine wealth are people, relationships, the environment, infrastructure and money. Genuine wealth is achieved when all core assets are in balance with each other.
"Our focus for the last 50 or more years has been on economic growth for growth's sake, building the GDP, as opposed to what most of us want which is well-being," said Anielski. "We want happiness and quality of life and spiritual well-being."
In his book, he maintains there are happier, genuinely wealthy nations that have a low GDP per capita, including Costa Rica, Cuba and Bhutan. He is convinced happiness is achievable at lower income levels.
"I am estimating $10,000 or $15,000 per person is probably where you can optimize happiness and GDP. Alberta is around $65,000. The question I ask is whether we need to have such a booming economy, given that the evidence suggests there's a lower optimum level," said Anielski.
The vision of a sustainable economy was founded on the principles of efficiency, equity and reciprocity, and was inspired by the cooperative economy of Emilia-Romagna, a flourishing and vibrant region of Italy.