Comment: Well-being is a critical success metric

Speaker Buzz was founded on the simple belief that our collective mental, physical and emotional well-being has never been more important. The speakers we represent focus on making a positive contribution to the world by creating inspiration with impact.

Debbie Byers, founder of Speaker Buzz, praises Nicola Sturgeon's recognition that well-being and happiness should contribute to measuring success. Picture: contributed
Debbie Byers, founder of Speaker Buzz, praises Nicola Sturgeon's recognition that well-being and happiness should contribute to measuring success. Picture: contributed

That’s why the recent talk given by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the TED Summit in Edinburgh resonated so strongly with us. We’re not taking any party-political side here; what resonated was Sturgeon’s argument for a broader, deeper definition of what it means to be successful as a country and as a society.

Set against a backdrop of political and economic upheaval, widening inequalities and future challenges of climate emergency, rising automation and an ageing population, her pitch was this: too much weight is tied to a country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and “the objective of economic policy should be collective well-being: how happy and healthy a population is, not just how wealthy a population is”.

GDP’s measurement of the output of all of our work, she added: “says nothing about the nature of that work, about whether that work is worthwhile or fulfilling. It puts a value, for example, on illegal drug consumption, but not on unpaid care.”

This is why, the First Minister explained, Scotland took the lead in 2018 to create the Wellbeing Economy Governments group with Iceland and New Zealand. “The purpose of this group is to challenge that focus on the narrow measurement of GDP. To say that, yes, economic growth matters – it is important – but it’s not all that is important.”

It was stirring stuff and struck a chord; it’s heartening to see governments challenge the traditional thinking that has created policies which have shaped our nations for generations. But it starts with individuals. That’s precisely what links our diverse 21-strong roster of speakers; each focuses on mental health and well-being, on how to make positive social, cultural or behavioural changes on how to shape our world instead of accepting our fate.

It is striking how often, and for how long, we have tried to have this conversation with each other. The 19th century British philosopher John Stuart Mill wrote: ‘Those are only happy…who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness; on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means but as itself an ideal end. Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the way.”

Fast-forward to 2007 and the ever erudite Stephen Fry (diagnosed with bipolar disorder in his late 30s), was presenting a Pride of Britain award to Vicki Peters, a champion of the cause of those with mental illness after overcoming her own. In his inimitable style Fry succinctly said: “True happiness is only to be found in the pursuit of helping others.”

- Debbie Byers, founder of Speaker Buzz.