Saturday, August 2, 2008

Making Happy Bhutan-eers

I love the fact that the country of Bhutan has a GNH --- Gross National Happiness --- which they measure and consider more important than the Gross National Product (GNP).

Now, maybe it is easy to have an official policy on happiness that is not easily measured when your country is small, poor, isolated and reveres the Dalai Lama. However, what does it say when a country is concerned enough to commit to a policy where every decision is supposedly viewed through a looking glass of how it affects the population happiness factor?
I imagine the naysayers can argue that economic and military security of a populace would far outweigh any concern regarding how happy a decision would make its people, but is that really the case? If a government decides to override popular sentiment in favor of a strong military decision or economic policy regarding the security of a natural resource such as oil, we measure the repercussions differently. Doing something in your own best interest doesn't necessarily translate into population contentment. Having to justify selfish actions is like a child explaining why they felt it necessary to steal the cookie. It provides temporary personal gratification but does nothing to ensure one's personal long term happiness.

We are country that examines its personal fulfillment mercilessly, measures our satisfaction compared to what we have and can acquire, seek happiness in a multitude of self-help, personal examinations, and spending capability, yet we remain singularly one of the least fulfilled cultures in the world. Governments respond to data, hard numbers as the measure of a country's well-being, but few choose to look at those ineffable factors which make people content, satisfied and happy with themselves and their society. Sometimes we delude ourselves into thinking that if we are the most charitable and giving people in the world that somehow that makes up for our selfishness in other areas. That we assuage our guilt and bellicose attitudes regarding others by focusing on past historical acts. We bring that past in as if to say somehow it justifies our present disregard.

Feeling good about oneself without the need for justification alone should be the only factor for true happiness. Do we measure Italians on their GNP or rather their oft regarded love of family, food, and enjoyment of life? Not surprising, even the Italians aren't rated as happy, or content as the Bhutanese.

Perhaps once we understand this, can the concept of measuring a nations Gross National Happiness be seen as more than some pie-in-the-sky concept. When cultural satisfaction is prioritized not by what is produced but by what is valued.

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