Suitcase and World: Be happy :-)

Monday, July 5, 2010

Be happy :-)

I don't know anyone who does not want to be happy but what does it take be happy? When I was younger, happiness was all wrapped in material possessions - my house, my car, my *toys*, my clothes and the others that I was amassing.  Accumulating stuff  was all it took to make me happy.

A few years back, I realized that accumulating possessions was no longer the formula to my personal happiness.  I started to give away stuff but having less stuff didn't make me happy either.

For me, material wealth definitely equates with living comfortably but it does not translate into being more happy and I've always known that I'm not alone in the way I feel.

In recent years, sociologists have put out surveys to try and gauge the relative happiness of different countries.  Not surprisingly, just because you're a wealthy country does not mean your citizens are a happy lot by default.

According to Forbes magazine, Denmark ranked on top of the happiness scale in 2009 while CNN put Costa Rica on the top of its list of happiest countries.  The US, one of the world's economic powerhouses, did not crack the top 10 on either list. 

So, what is the secret to being happy? Maybe the answer lies with Bhutan.

In 1972,  as he ascended the throne, Bhutan's King Jigme Singye Wangchuck coined the term Gross National Happiness (GNH) as a sign of his commitment to building an economy that would serve Bhutan's unique culture and yet be able to retain its unique Buddhist spiritual values.   The driving premise behind GNH is that economic growth does not necessarily lead to contentment.  Thus, in accordance with the principles of GNH put forth by the King, Bhutan's prosperity would be defined in more holistic terms and to be measured by the overall well being of its people in all aspects of their lives - material, physical, cultural, and spiritual. This is in sharp contrast to the more conventional concept of Gross National Product (GNP) measures only the sum total of material production and exchange in any country.

Flash forward 30 years later and what might have first been considered by many people as a "flaky" concept is now being embraced out by a wide range of professionals around the world.  Measuring happiness has become an international trend lately and even the US has gotten into the act.  There is actually a Facebook page that measures how people in the US are collectively feeling based on words used in the status updates.  According to today's chart, we are the happiest around the major surprise there!

Unlike GNP which can be quantitatively defined, there is no exact quantitative definition of GNH so naturally,there's debate going on as to exactly how to define it.  Some proponents of the concept have put forth the premise that GNH is not inherently quantifiable but elements that contribute to GNH can be subjected to quantitative measurement.  To this end, there are 7 elements of wellness that can be measured and that collectively, represent GNH.

Economic Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of economic metrics such as consumer debt, average income to consumer price index ratio and income distribution.
Environmental Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of environmental metrics such as pollution, noise and traffic.
Physical Wellness: Indicated via statistical measurement of physical health metrics such as severe illnesses.
Mental Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of mental health metrics such as usage of antidepressants and rise or decline of psychotherapy patients.
Workplace Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of labor metrics such as jobless claims, job change, workplace complaints and lawsuits.
Social Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of social metrics such as discrimination, safety, divorce rates, complaints of domestic conflicts and family lawsuits, public lawsuits, crime rates.
Political Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of political metrics such as the quality of local democracy, individual freedom, and foreign conflicts.

All this sure sounds good but is it really possible to measure happiness??  I think that is difficult to
define or measure happiness but it's a admirable goal to have and maybe Bhutan can continue to lead the way for the rest of the world.

Though the present king is determined to improve the economic conditions of Bhutan while following the happiness mantra laid down by his father, he will be challenged to shield Bhutan from all that is viewed by many of his own citizens as the more negative aspects of the economic growth being faced by its mammoth neighbours India and China - social upheaval, rampant materialism and the steady erosion of age old traditions. 

Yes, Google, Starbucks and the iPhone have all successfully penetrated into India and Chinese society.  Will these distinctly western cultural influences invade Bhutan and if they do, will its citizens remain happy?  I guess only time will tell.  In the meantime, I will continue in my neverending quest to find personal happiness.