Gross National Happiness

Once upon a time in a place far, far, away there lived a wise king.  This particular monarch ascended to the throne of the small, secluded, Buddhist country, Bhutan, which is perched in the Himalaya Mountains between China and India, in 1972 at the young age of 17 when his father died.

Instead of the normal everyday activities of a teenager, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck’s life soon became filled with thoughts of country and culture, and how to help his people in protecting what they loved – their land and its rich traditions, while finding ways to modernize and prepare for their future.

Throughout his reign he explored the impact of happiness on his people and his country, and transformed his country from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy and then to a democracy.  In 2006 he abdicated his throne to his 28 year-old son.

In 2008 at the coronation of his son, His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck the 5th King of Bhutan, the country of Bhutan adopted the Gross National Happiness Index (GNH) and became the first country in the world to include ways to count the “happiness” of their people as an indicator of how successful their country was.

Instead of looking at their Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which focuses on economic standards to tell them how well their country was doing, they began counting things like:

Psychological wellbeing indicators Ecology indicators Health indicators
Education indicators Culture indicators Living Standards indicators
Time Use indicators Community Vitality indicators Good Governance indicators

In my last post, I introduced you to “Joie De Vivre” (Joy of Life) hotelier, speaker and author Chip Conley, and his TED talk about counting what matters.  Conley’s talk also introduced me to Bhutan’s concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH).

I found it intriguing that since Bhutan developed the GNH index, 40 other countries, including France, have begun studying their country’s GNH.  I liked that, and it got me thinking.  . .

What if each of us had a personal GNH index?

What if we used what we valued and counted to create our own GNH and then used it as a guide to create the life we want?

What if everyone in our big, beautiful country did that? What if we became the Shangri-La of the western world?  Could we?  Should we?

I do not have – nor do I believe Bhutan has – all the answers, but I do believe the questions are worth asking ourselves again and again . . .

What would my life look and feel like if I knew and counted only the things that really, really mattered to me? (Some of you might be thinking that “counting” anything is a bit mercenary and unnecessary, and you might be right, but I think since we already tend to do it, it may be a good tool to use to refocus our attention.)

How would I like to spend my time? What do I need to do to make that happen?

What am I interested in learning more about? How will I go about doing that?

What do I value in nature, and how do I recognize and honor that?

What am I doing to create happiness and fulfillment in my life or in the lives of the people I care about?

What am I doing to take care of my health? Do I do it consistently?

What does “community” mean to me? What are the moments of community I enjoyed as a child – or as an adult?  How did my community impact my environment, my education, my life?  Do I support those activities now?

Have I determined what living arrangements and what amount of “stuff” I need to be comfortable and happy? Do I have it? Have I reached a point of diminishing return?  Have I worked to adjust my life accordingly – up or down?

What is my family’s culture – my family of origin and the family I have created?  What do I want to preserve?  Change? Who and what do I value in life?  How do I show it?

I believe asking matters and that it defines who we are, and can help us create who we want to be.

I also believe it is a very brave thing to do.


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