New Zealand’s government has a radical new plan: Prioritizing happiness


New Zealand’s proposed “well-being budget” could change the way that countries measure strength.

Instead of focusing on financial growth, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s government released a budget at the end of May that prioritizes the happiness of citizens.

The “well-being budget” lists five priorities: mental health, family violence, clean energy, digital innovation, and supporting indigenous peoples.

Over $1 billion (or 1.9 billion New Zealand dollars) is earmarked for improving mental health services in the country over the next four years, with around $500 million devoted to battling depression and anxiety — especially among people under the age of 24.

More than $800 million would be invested in reducing child poverty and combating physical and sexual abuse.

To measure the success of these initiatives, New Zealand’s government will track 61 metrics, ranging from “loneliness to trust in government institutions, alongside more traditional issues like water quality.”

Ardern’s political opponents have argued that New Zealand’s economy will suffer from the “well-being budget.”

“We’re facing significant economic risks over coming years, but this government is focusing on a marketing campaign,” said the National Party’s Amy Adams in a statement.

However, the proposals have received praise from advocates in the country.

“We are really over the moon about the overall package, it’s great,” said Ang Jury, the director of Women’s Refuge, which provides support for victims of domestic violence. “By god yes this is the most spending by far, there’s not even anything to compare it to. The foundation they’re setting up to truly tackle this is absolutely fantastic.”

Over 80,000 people are estimated to be eligible for free mental health services and addition treatment under the proposal.

New Zealand is the first Western nation to use happiness as a metric of success. Bhutan evaluates the well-being of its citizens with a census every five years.

New Zealand ranked eighth in the 2019 World Happiness Report, while the U.S. ranked 19th — down one spot from 2018. President Donald Trump has repeatedly called for cuts to mental health services.

The “well-being budget” — which also allocates money for buying back guns from owners — is New Zealand’s first since the deadly mosque shootings in Christchurch that killed 51 people in March.

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