It probably slipped by you, but Oct. 24 was "Take Back Your Time Day." That’s an idea that almost all of us would like to embrace. Former Duluthian John de Graff has been working successfully on the idea for well over a decade.
de Graff was back in town Oct. 10 and made a couple of presentations in the Duluth Labor Temple on another of his favorite topics that runs a parallel track to taking back our time: the happiness initiative.
Before your eyes glaze over and utopian thoughts take you away, you need to know this happiness initiative is grounded in real data. And de Graff is an accomplished writer, film maker, and has traveled the globe giving presentations on the happiness initiative (HI).
HI has practical applications that de Graff has brought to the Kingdom of Bhutan, the State of Vermont, and the City of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. And Duluth City Councilor Sharla Gardner, a long time friend of de Graff, is planning to bring it to town.
Measuring well being and happiness is important work for policy makers, de Graff says. Using data worldwide shows why the U.S. is so poor at time balance and workplace stress and we need to do something about it. Enough people in the Twin Ports know about HI that three dozen showed up to hear de Graff in Wellstone Hall.
In opening, de Graff said the word “happiness is a sloppy term that creates distress.” But the idea has been around a long time and we all are in pursuit of it in some way in our personal lives. It doesn’t get much play from policymakers but George Washington and three other early presidents said improving the happiness of the populace is the sole purpose of government. (Later de Graff also said if pro is the opposite of con, then progress must be the opposite of congress.)
de Graff says getting richer, and growing constantly do not equal happiness. The best countries for the happiness of their populace are the Nordic countries and Switzerland. “They are egalitarian and have a small gap between the rich and poor,” de Graff said.
The U.S. has dropped from 11th five years ago to 17th today making it the worst amongst wealth nations on the happiness index. That’s calculated on the balance between work and personal lives.
The Netherlands is #1 for having the shortest number of work hours per year. They work about 400 to 500 fewer hours a year than U.S. workers.
What else do those countries have in common? They pay the world’s highest taxes de Graff said.
In America we are lead to believe we should measure happiness by the Gross Domestic Product. de Graff said in 1968, in his run for the presidency, Bobby Kennedy correctly stated “The Gross National Product measures, in short, everything but that which makes life worthwhile.”
de Graff says you can measure well being with data and genuine progress indicators, while happiness is more subjective, but it can use survey results to see how people feel about things in their lives. You can have well being without happiness he said.
Vermont was the first state to use a random happiness survey to see how its citizens were doing. Eau Claire used a couple of surveys and its leaders were surprised at their low scores.
de Graff was in Bhutan this year as an adviser to its leader on work/life balance. Its leader said Gross National Happiness is more important that GDP. He abolished his absolute monarchy and made a constitutional monarchy, and will make a presentation to the United Nations on happiness. Business Week says Bhutan ranks happiest among Asian nations and is 8th happiest in the world.
Some of the happiness measurables are things like paid maternity leave, sick days, vacation time. All the countries that do well on those things score highly on happiness. The U.S. generally does very poorly on them. On many of those issues, we are among the worst nations in the world.
American business interests whine that they can’t compete in the world economy if they have to provide those benefits to workers, or if the minimum wage is raised. de Graff asks how is it that the nations that do provide them are faring so well then?
“In Australia I asked a McDonald’s server if she really made $17 an hour,” de Graff related. “She said she started out at that but was now making $18.50 two years later.”
He said the U.S. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico does have three weeks of paid vacation, and paid family leave and sick leave.
de Graff said there is a direct correlation amongst workers in the number of hours they work, their work stress, and their health and America’s workers don’t stack up well.
“Stress is the new tobacco,” he said, “and they both look the same in our arteries.”
American workers are far less healthy with at least two times the incidence of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other fatal maladies than happier country’s workers. Productivity and the bottom line are both enhanced by happy, healthy workers.
de Graff ended his talk by linking minimum wage increases to the happiness initiative.
“Washington state has the highest minimum wage and great job growth,” de Graff said. “The poorer workers spend their money (on life’s essentials). Seattle, where I live, is talking about a $15 an hour minimum wage. If we have to negotiate to $12 an hour we’ll be happy.”