New Zealand has a $1 billion well-being budget with five priorities for the happiness of its citizens (mental health, family violence, clean energy, digital innovation, and supporting indigenous people). Supporters of the budget feel happiness is a better metric for wellbeing than economic measures. Critics feel it’s a marketing campaign that minimizes the importance of GDP and the government’s role is to focus on economics metrics rather than individual happiness.
Dr. David Gregg, Chief Medical Officer of StayWell believes wellbeing is a greater indicator of an individual's larger health than economic measures. He notes that “While there are certain efforts underway in the US surrounding clean air and water, or urban redevelopment, or domestic violence shelters, New Zealand has led the way by uniting these elements with the understanding that these components all play a crucial role in the wellbeing of its citizens. Research shows that even employee wellbeing programs have a halo effect on family members of employees, leading to the betterment of the entire family unit. It stands to reason that a country-wide initiative would have the same impact on its inhabitants. A country leader that values these elements, along with backing from government health entities and corporate support could help achieve a similar measure in the US someday.”
Dean C. Mitchell, M.D. is a proponent of government supporting wellness funding in the US. Mitchell notes that “anxiety and depression are leading causes of missed work and productivity. Top companies have mental health coaches and advisors to keep their key employees well to handle daily stress. Nutrition is another area where simple steps to keep people at a normal weight for their body type and reduce inflammation make a huge impact on their longevity. We have for too long guided government funds for sickness when it could have been prevented in some cases.”
Gail Trauco, R.N., BSN-OCN has concerns about the use of the funds and stresses the need for monitoring and data analysis for outcome measures. “Distribution of the wellbeing budget services will need to be available to all citizens, even those in rural geographic regions,” said Trauco. “Deployment of such a program requires an army of skilled, trained resources such as physicians, nurses, therapists, social workers, scientists, and IT experts for management and data collection.”
Trauco believes it would take nothing short of a “healthcare miracle” for a budget like this in the US. “US healthcare focuses on traditional clinical medicine for treatment and diagnosis which is big money,” said Trauco. “Patients who seek alternative therapies for wellness or primary treatment for chronic illness and disease pay these costs out-of-pocket. However, there is no incentive for change in the current system for insurance companies and providers.
Although there is not a wellbeing budget in the United States, Etienne Deffarges, notes areas that do at least track wellbeing. ”One of the world’s best-tracked rankings is that of the 50 most livable cities in the world from the Economist Intelligence Unit: Its Global Liveability Index measures cities by well-quantified metrics such as culture and the environment, corruption, crime rates, education, healthcare quality, and infrastructure.”
Defarrges believes the US needs a national set of wellbeing statistics. He says “it could help us surmise the political courage to legislate universal healthcare in our country—can we ever be happy when we are ill and do not have proper access to care? We need to transition from a society where we live to work (and grow the GDP) to one where we work to live (well).” He points to the Gallup-Sharecare Index as a good start which measures Americans’ perceptions of their lives based on a sense of purpose, social relationships, financial security, relationship to community, and physical wellbeing.
Focusing on and tracking new wellbeing indicators at the federal government level will shift our national priorities. Defarrges believes “with better access to preventive and curative healthcare, and lower inequality, come lower depression rates, mental health issues, burnout and stress, obesity and other social ills. New infrastructure and enhanced public services also bring many hidden benefits such as a strong sense of community and belonging, not to mention a clean and healthy physical environment. These benefits should become available to all Americans, in populated as well as rural areas, and economically challenged and wealthy ones alike."