As Alex notes below, happiness is contagious. And so, too, may be Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness (GNH) economic model, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. For decades now the Bhutanese government has been keeping its people’s well-being foremost in mind when formulating economic policy, and lately, Western economists have been showing up to have a closer look. The French, ever mindful of the good life, seem to be ahead of the curve here, having launched the “most significant GNH project” outside of Bhutan to date:

The Quality of Life Commission, initiated by President Nicolas Sarkozy in August, with help from such notable economists as Nobel prize winners Joseph Stiglitz and Armatya Sen, is expected to launch its findings next year.

“I think that on all sides of the political spectrum there is recognition of these deficiencies, and a recognition that it is important that we develop better metrics, no matter whether you are on the left or the right,” Stiglitz said at a conference on development in Cleveland earlier this year.

Some Bhutanese seem to think Barack Obama will join in soon, and Dasho Karma Ura, president of the Center for Bhutan Studies in the capital Thimphu, detects “a U.S. swing toward GNH” in his speeches:

“Obama is using the same vocabularies. He wants to bring health care back, wants to improve education, environmental responsibility. … We are basically talking about the same things.”

Let’s hope so. And lest anyone scoff, be advised that happiness is no laughing matter:

“Happiness is very serious business,”¬†Bhutan¬†Prime Minister Jigme Thinley said. “The dogma of limitless productivity and growth in a finite world is unsustainable and unfair for future generations.”