June 10, 2009

Gross National... Happiness?

I read this interesting NY Times article a little while back about how the government of the tiny country of Bhutan in the Himalayas is being judged by the happiness it produces, not the economic benefits.

The prime minister of the Buddhist kingdom blames the current worldwide economic catastrophe on "insatiable human greed" and insists that what's needed is a radical shift in thinking.

To that end, the government aims to produce the conditions necessary for the "pursuit of gross national happiness," paraphrasing the American Declaration of Independence. The Bhutanese are busy working out a system of definitions and standards that can be quantified in concrete way.

Their intricate model of well-being consists of the 4 pillars, 9 domains, and 72 indicators of happiness. That sounds a little complicated, but I love the idea of focusing on happiness over wealth. What's that old saying, "Money can't buy happiness?"

The four pillars of a happy society involve the economy, culture, the environment, and good governance. Sounds like they're onto something. They've even managed to devise mathematical formulas to measure the components that make up the elusive mental state. Maybe we can learn something from this country with a population of just 700,000. The secret to happiness, perhaps?

Click here to read the entire article. What do you think of the idea of measuring Gross National Happiness? Please leave your thoughts in the Comments section.


Kate Sommers said...

I believe humans are inherently kind, not greedy by nature. (most anyway)
We've created a dysfunctional society here in America,where money is the most important thing in most peoples lives and enjoyment is ridiculed.(the starving artist etc) We've been trained to build up our countries economy since kindergarten.This way of life breeds the illusion of acquiring the American Dream and in that trap of keeping up with the Jone's most end up missing out on actually enjoying their daily lives.They're waiting for the weekend, that special vacation or retirement.I love the European life style where they take long lunches and two month Holidays with their families.They will talk
with each other over a long dinner and stroll through the village after.Humans need connection, we're pack animals!
When we all have our basic needs met and aren't living in survival mode or fixated on a future goal where we think pleasure will be, then we can actually explore and enjoy happiness and comfort.
(I'm more of a socialist)
There is a community of folks I know very well in Lafayette Calif.
They use to be an accredited University.Their 35 years of research has been on happiness and living a pleasurable life.They've discovered many ways for men and women to get along and be more loving.One way is by exploring the human sensual life (not just sexual but sensual) and how to be gratified in that.They have gained an infamous reputation as being a sex cult from this, but they don't care.They just keep on enjoying their lives and make a living from teaching others how to do the same.Some of the nicest people I've ever met live in this community.Here is a link to their web site:
The most useful piece of information I have from their teachings is to be appreciative of what I have and to acknowledge the good that is already there.This allows one to enjoy what is and also allows room for more.
I've been reading a book called "The Pleasure Trap" by Douglas Lisle
It tells about how we reach for happiness and the ways it is killing us physically with instant gratification from our Happy Hour cocktails and coffees and overindulgence with snacks and treats.Our lifestyle doesn't necessarily breed happiness but instant gratification...which usually causes more harm than good in the long run.I think this is why so many are on antidepressants and meds these days.I'm not saying don't have any indulgences but to keep it all in balance.We've all become accustomed to whatever we want whenever we want...it's not necessarily the healthiest way.
I like reading your blog Angela because your topics are so diverse and keep the readers thinking.

Marylyn said...

AHA! "Mahayana Buddhism is the state religion of Bhutan, and Buddhists comprise two-thirds to three-quarters of its population...The state religion has long been supported financially by the government through annual subsidies to monasteries, shrines, monks, and nuns...during the reign of Jigme Dorji Wangchuck [this] include[d] the manufacture of 10,000 gilded bronze images of the Buddha...publication of elegant calligraphed editions of the 108-volume Kangyur...and the 225-volume Tengyur...and the construction of numerous chorten (stupas) throughout the country. Buddhists constitute the majority of society and are assured an influential voice in public policy"

That's from Wikipedia. However, if I understand it correctly, one of the main notions of Buddhism is that "happiness" is unachievable in this life, and pursuit of it is a spiritual mistake. So I don't get this. I've studied it some in the last few years, but I was always distracted by the various contradictions of Buddhism.

Ellen said...

Did you see Michael J. Fox's show on optimism? He talked about Bhutan in that hour. I think you'd like the show. It's still on my DVR if you missed it....

QQ*librarian said...

My thoughts on Bhutan and GNH is incorporated in this book review on "Geography of Bliss" in my blog.


Kristen@TheFrugalGirl said...

Hmm...as evidenced by the complicated system they have for measuring happiness, it's clear that happiness is difficult to quantify. Any system has to depend on people's own analysis of their happiness level, and it seems like that would vary from person to person.

It's not that I think we shouldn't try to make our lives happier and more content, it's just that I don't think there will ever be a good system to measure happiness.

Marylyn said...

Great review, QQ*Librarian. That is the kind of discussion that makes sense to me.

Angela said...

Great comments! I love this subject, and have read an article about Weiner's findings, but not the entire book. I'm putting it on the top of my reading list right now! Thanks for that review, QQ* librarian- I wholeheartedly agree that I would rather be educated than happy- reading and knowledge and introspection are too important to me. And I love the "recipe for unhappiness" in Moldova- deriving pleasure from another's failure. It sounds close to the German term "schadenfreude," meaning "pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others."

What interested me about the article was the idea of trying to measure or quantify happiness, which I find suspect. But what I appreciate is the FOCUS on the issue, rather than on wealth. The Buddhism angle is interesting, because there is the belief that life is struggle and suffering, and that does seem fatalistic to me. But there's always the problem of semantics, and trying to give words to things and I don't think that really translates. My friend who is a Buddhist monk has never been able to explain it to my satisfaction.

Thanks everyone for your contribution to the discussion. I can't wait to read Eric Weiner's book. What a great title: The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's search for the happiest places in the world.

Celal said...

It's not the buddist are any smarter, it's the western world stands on in equality, slave labor, greed, lux, excess.
We don't need a complex formula, all it takes a disaster, if we keep up attacking smaller countries disaster on it's way soon...
love your blog..