Skip to content

Has Coronavirus Nudged the World into Readiness for a New Happiness Index?


Amid the frenzy and fear enveloping much of the world on March 20, 2020, the United Nations celebrated its 15th International Day of Happiness (IDH). The theme for this year was “Happier Together,” promoting happiness through “our common humanity.” People should “find positive ways to look after ourselves and each other” in the face of COVID-19. Excellent suggestions offered in a 30-day coping calendar include taking time to be still/calm, being purposefully positive, and being kind to oneself and others. Jayme Illien who founded IDH in 2006 is the CEO of the United Nations New World Order Project and Co-founder (with Luis Gallardo) of Happytalism — a proposed alternative economic system “which places the primacy of happiness, well-being, and freedom at the center of human development and all life.”

IDH and Happytalism are representative of an emerging new paradigm that promotes measuring national progress via human flourishing as an accessory to traditional economic statistics Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Gross National Income (GNI).[1] A variety of indirect well-being and happiness indicators have emerged globally, for example, in: Bhutan (2008), United Nations Development Program (2010), United Nations General Assembly Resolution (2011), Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (2011), United Nations (2011), Canada (2011), South Korea (2012), Goa (2012), Seattle (2012), Singapore (2013), Dubai (2014), United Kingdom (2014), and Thailand (2016).

The proliferation of measures of human flourishing in this secular era characterized by some as having “the most important purpose and agenda of society as economic collaboration and exchange,”[2] begs questions about society’s deepest needs. COVID-19 makes it clear that there are often irreconcilable tensions among the various ends measured by these indicators, particularly in twenty-first century Western societies.

Perhaps in this season of challenge and change, people might be more amenable to consider yet another alternative to economic measures of human flourishing: the formula for lasting human flourishing available in the Christian Scriptures. Although the phrase “human flourishing” is not explicit, Scripture is peppered with references of “flourishing” and explicitly gives God ownership of every desirable treasure (Ps 50:10-12; Hag 2:8). Further, Scripture is replete with direct and indirect imagery of God’s desires, will, plan, and acts toward human prosperity, security, well-being, fulfilment, and abundance (Gen 32:9; Lev 26; Jer 29:11; John 10:10). Thus, Scripture’s guarantee of God’s wholistic view of human flourishing for everyone — economic, emotional, physical, spiritual, intellectual, social, professional — is not a white elephant, neither is it based on circumstantial evidence but is real in substance and form. Consider these promises from God to humans: “possess land” (Exod 3:8; Deut 6:1-10), “multiply greatly” (Deut 6:3, 30:1-10; Matt 19:29; Luke 6:38), “milk and honey” (Deut 6:3; 11:9), “houses full of good things” (Deut 6:11), “prosperity and success” (Josh 1:8), “will lack nothing” (Ps 23:1; Ps 84:11), “joy following sorrow” (Ps 30:5), “protection, strength, refreshing” (Isa 58), “restoration, health, and healing” (Jer 33:1-9), “coregency” (Matt 19:28; 2 Tim 2:12), and “eternal life” (Matt 19:29; John 3:16).

Evidently, this breadth of promises, blessings, and rewards exceeds the economic, is contingent only on humanity’s choice of how to invest their lives (Lev 26 and Deut 28), and much of it is possible in the present world. Clearly, human flourishing encompassing the entire human experience is the divine promise of the ultimate goal of humanity. This promise of full and lasting human flourishing offered in the Scriptures does not bear a direct correlation to an immediate existential situation. Accordingly, a person, community, or nation may experience flourishing above and beyond coping even while facing adverse circumstances. How is this possible?

To experience enduring flourishing, humans are invited to utilize the indicators Jesus offered the rich young man whose nagging sense of lack motivated his quest for the index to eternal life (Matt 19:16–29). Jesus suggested that the rich man invest in PAST:

•  P: Philosophy of reality and life where both this-worldly and “divine” goals are plausible and credible and based on the existence, presence, and authority of God and His word.

•  A: Anthropology where humans are created for flourishing, but are more than homo economicus, not ignoring or devaluing imago Dei.

•  S: Sociology that promotes humans in loving relations with God and with each other, as humans achieve limited flourishing independently.

•  T: Theology evident in life dependent on the loving, present, and powerful Creator-God who wills, plans, and acts for full human flourishing as revealed in the Scriptures.

Thus, maximal, wholistic flourishing is possible using PAST — the biblically-oriented indices of human flourishing, life, human beings, and God — to invest human lives.

With any investment, the accumulation of the present value into a greater future value requires patience and trust. While incremental benefits may be enjoyed periodically, the greatest return becomes available at the end of the investment period if all goes well. An apparently bad investment decision may be justified as extremely astute in retrospect, as (un)anticipated reversals materialize in the future.

Analogously, the flourishing that God promises in Scripture is only partial in the present as humans continue to experience loss and suffering. Investing in PAST — storing up treasure in heaven, loving one’s enemies, giving to the poor, serving an invisible God — may certainly appear imprudent unless viewed in the context of the future. Indeed, it is the very long future that is made possible by the inimitable and enduring biblical flourishing that most clearly distinguishes it because, unlike earthly investments that are not risk-free, full biblical flourishing is guaranteed forever.

Humans, who live faithfully in relationship with God in the present, will live and reign with God forever with no threat of loss, disease, pain, or death (Rev 21:4) and nothing will be able to thwart God’s good plans for humanity (Isaiah 46:10). Neither coronavirus pandemic nor anything else will be able to downgrade the fullness of the flourishing of those who invest their lives according to PAST in the present.


Notes & References:

[1] See, e.g., Accounting and Business International 09/2013, 16–19.

[2] Charles Taylor, Modern Social Imaginaries, (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004), 76.


Jenifer A. Daley is an inter-disciplinary theologian with degrees in theology and business.

Photo by MI PHAM on Unsplash


We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.

Subscribe to our newsletter
Spectrum Newsletter: The latest Adventist news at your fingertips.
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.