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Want to Be Happier? California Ponders Promoting Well-Being in Law

By Jake Beardslee · March 16, 2024

In brief…

  • California forms first-ever legislative committee to study happiness and public policy
  • Experts say government can boost well-being through initiatives like green spaces, teaching happiness, mental health resources
  • 74% of Californians report being "very" or "pretty" happy, but pandemic decreased life satisfaction
  • Idea modeled on Bhutan incorporating a "Gross National Happiness Index" into policymaking
California has created the nation's first legislative committee devoted to studying happiness and how public policy can increase societal well-being.  California State Assembly/Wikimedia

In an unprecedented move, California Assembly member Anthony Rendon has formed a first-of-its-kind committee to study happiness and how public policy can increase it. The “Select Committee on Happiness and Public Policy Outcomes” held its inaugural hearing this week, according to The Associated Press.

Rendon, in his final year as a state lawmaker, believes considering happiness should be central to policymaking. “If we have everybody clothed, everybody housed, everybody has a job and they’re miserable, then we’ve failed at what we’re trying to do,” he said, according to AP. The Democrat aims to release a report with the committee’s findings before the legislative session ends in late August.

While no other U.S. state has a dedicated happiness committee, the idea is not entirely novel - the nation of Bhutan has incorporated a “Gross National Happiness Index” into its constitution to guide policymaking.

Research shows factors like leisure activities, social ties, and life circumstances contribute to well-being. Experts told the committee that authorities can bolster happiness through initiatives like increasing green spaces, teaching about happiness in schools, and investing in mental health resources. “Happiness has wide-ranging benefits that include making people more likely to vote, more creative and healthier,” said professor Meliksah Demir, AP reported.

While 74% of Californians report being “very happy” or “pretty happy,” the pandemic appears to have decreased overall life satisfaction levels in the state.