🎥 Add a spoonful of happiness: who cares about GDP?

The lockdown has hurt “economic growth”. Alastair & Clarisse find out what it means – and wonder if there are better things to aim for in the economy than “GDP”. How about trying to be happy ?!

Listen to Alastair and Clarisse talking about happiness and GDP.

Transcript podcast – May 10, 2020

A – Hello and welcome to WoW!, the positive podcast! Showing kids that there’s a lot more to the world news than bad news.

I’m Alastair. As a journalist, I’ve worked all over the world. Often I wrote about things going wrong. But people need to know too about what’s going right. That helps us see that there are things we can do to make the world a better place.

So I’m here this week, with my podcast buddy Clarisse, to talk about what’s going on right now in the economy … Wait! Hold on! Don’t turn off! I promise this won’t be boring! The economy is important and here at WoW! we’re making it fun – and talking about some positive thinking that’s going on despite the lockdown. Oh, and we’ve got a Dragon King, too.

I hope it gives you some ideas too – and maybe a bit of a boost. If you like this podcast, do share it with a friend!


A – You’re still with me? Even though I said we’re going to talk about the economy? Brilliant! That’s great! Here we go. Hallo Clarisse!

C – Hello Alastair. Er, are we really going to talk about the economy? Is it interesting? And is there anything positive to say at the moment?

A – Well, I’m glad you asked Clarisse. We’re going to travel far, to the high mountains of the Himalayas in today’s podcast, to hear about happiness. And I’ve also got some good news from my home country, Scotland. Not to mention that Dragon King… But more on that later! First, yes, Clarisse, there is really important news about the economy right now. Like you and me, people all over the world have been staying at home to stop the corona virus, COVID-19. As we wrote last week in WoW – wow dash news dot eu – that’s been pretty successful at holding back the disease and so people are starting to be able to go back to work. The problem is that all those weeks when people haven’t been going out mean that the economy has shrunk. It’s the biggest fall in GDP in nearly 100 years.

C – Stop! Wait! But what does any of that mean, Alastair? What is GDP? Does it matter?

A – Hm. That’s two really good questions. GDP, or gross domestic product, is what we use to measure the economy of a country. To work it out, you basically add up everything that everyone in the country makes or sells over a year – it’s the sum of all the products, like shoes or potatoes, and all the services, like what you pay for a haircut or to travel on the bus.

C – Ah, OK. It sounds a lot more complicated than that.

A – Not really. And it’s important because countries have decided that having more stuff for everyone is the main thing the government should be doing. Notice, for example, how politicians are always arguing with each other over which of them can get the best GDP – who can make the most “economic growth”.

C – So it’s a problem for politicians because GDP has gone down?

A – It’s a problem for everyone. With the lockdown, people stopped making things. Or at least, they stopped making things to sell, like, say, shoes or cars. They maybe made cakes or videos on TikTok while they were at home. But that doesn’t count for GDP. And all the hairdressers and the train drivers, they weren’t at work, so they weren’t giving people services that are part of GDP. So there is less GDP today. And that makes people unhappy. They have less money. They worry about being able to pay for things they need. However…

C – There’s a ‘however’ ?? There is something positive in all this?

A – Well, you remember how we’ve looked at how there’s much less pollution from factories and cars and so on. We’ve looked at how nature is recovering. It helped us see how what matters to us most is other people and our health and our environment, not necessarily having, say, the latest trainers.

C – Hm OK. And what does this have to do with GDP?

A – Well it’s got more people thinking about how GDP doesn’t measure all the things we want in life. It doesn’t include loads of stuff. So the factories shutting and people stopping driving means GDP has dropped. But we’re all breathing cleaner air, for example. Or we’ve spent more time at home with our families, baking cakes or whatever. But GDP doesn’t take any account at all of any that.

C – But how do we measure something like that?

A – It’s tricky. GDP wraps together millions of things – shoes, haircuts, potatoes and what have you – into one simple number. How to do that for, say, how happy do we feel? So that’s where we’re going to a bit of travelling.

C – Wow! That sounds fun! Where are we going?

A – To Bhutan! And spin back in time 50 years. There’s a young man. He’s just 17. And he’s just become the Dragon King. I told you we’d get to him! That’s the name for the ruler of this little country, tucked away in the high mountains between India and China. He thinks to himself, what should he be doing to make his people better off? Should he be beefing up GDP, making them work more and make more stuff and so on? No, he thinks. Instead of trying for Gross Domestic Product he’s going to try to increase Gross National Happiness.

C – Wow, that sounds great. But how does it work?

A – Well, Bhutan tries to make sure that it takes decisions which take into account things like how much school children get, time off for playing games, how easy it is to see a doctor, or to listen to music. Bhutan isn’t a rich country, and of course not everyone is happy. But it’s been a very interesting experiment.

C – So we should all go to Bhutan?

A – Ah well, not so fast Clarisse! Actually they don’t let too many people in – so as to avoid spoiling the countryside. But more than that, Bhutan is coming to us, kind of.

C – Really? How do you mean?

A – Well, Bhutan’s ideas helped to inspire other countries to try and measure more than just GDP. The United Nations, the club for all the governments in the world, told countries a few years ago that they need to start measuring their success not just in GDP but also taking account of other things. Those include the environment, people’s health, their education. Countries can also measure how much time off people get, how much crime there is, whether money is shared out fairly.

C – And more countries are taking this seriously?

A – Yes Clarisse. Some rich countries are particularly keen on looking for other ways to measure what they call the quality of life. They see that if people have plenty of food and clothes and stuff, getting more and more stuff doesn’t make them happier.

C – Ah, yes, you told me about how we could do a little experiment on ourselves…

A – Yes. Indeed. I wanted to ask the listeners this. Imagine you have your own personal GDP. It counts up all the food you have, and all the toys. To get food and toys you need to go to school. Now think of this. You eat so much, you’re always totally full. And you have so many toys you have nowhere left to put them. And in any case, you have no time to play because you’re at school all day. Now let’s say you try to increase your GDP? How? You can go to school at night. That way, you’d get more food and toys and have more GDP? But do you really want them? Are there other things you want, even if they won’t increase your GDP?

C – Yes! More happiness!

A – I’m with you there, Clarisse! Yes, more free time to play, to run off all that food, whatever. More happiness.

C – And you said that Scotland was doing something like this?

A – Yes, Clarisse. In Scotland, where I come from, which is a lot bigger and richer than Bhutan, but still with mountains, the government has started measuring not just GDP but things like how happy children are and how easily people can get into the countryside in order to help make decisions. They’ve joined up with Iceland and New Zealand to try and push the idea of the Wellbeing Economy around the world – all three countries are led by women, by the way.

C – Ah I see. Yes, women have some good new ideas to offer! So do you think governments now are going to promote our happiness, not just try to make more GDP?

A – Well, it may not be quick. But this upset and the lockdown has certainly opened people up to new ideas.

C – Hm. I have some new ideas of my own – thanks to our WoW! podcasts .. I’m going to …. ???? water your new balcony flowers?

A – That sounds great, Clarisse. See you next week!

– And thank you for listening to WoW! News, the positive podcast.

If you’ve found it interesting, do tell a friend about us. Do check out our website, wow-news.eu, and drop us a line to tell us your ideas for being happy. That’s it from me. I’m Alastair. I’ll be back with Clarisse next week. Until then, stay home, stay safe and keep … positive!

Alastair editor of WoW!





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