The Urban Dharma Newsletter – January 9, 2009


In This Issue: Gross National Happiness and Buddhism

1. Gross National Happiness - from Wikipedia
2. Gross National Happiness and Buddhism - by Dasho Karma Ura
3. World Views Make a Difference: Shaping Globalization - Helena Norberg Hodge
4. Happiness/Obama Or McCain For Gross National Happiness? - By Stephen Williamson
5. Jenss Family Travels: Gross National Happiness - By IT Blog



Happy New Year... Gross National Happiness is an interesting concept and the first UD Newsletter of 2009 is filled with some good reading on the subject.

I'm back at Loyola Marymount University starting next week with an extension class on the Buddhist Eight Fold Path... There is still time to sigh up if you would like to join me for a five week journey.

The Buddhist Eightfold Path - Explained!
Instructor: Ven. Kusala Bhikshu

Schedule: Thursdays / 7:30 – 9:30 pm
January 15 – February 12, 2009

Loyola Marymount University
1 LMU Drive, Los Angeles, California 90045

In simple everyday language this course will offer a detailed introduction to the Buddhist Eightfold Path. The Buddha in his forty-five years of teaching taught two things: why humans suffer and how to end suffering. Rev. Kusala will explore the ins and outs of the Eightfold Path, how it can lead to the end of suffering, a lifestyle of simplicity and personal fulfillment. Through stories and personal insights Kusala will show how to use and integrate the Eightfold Path into everyday life. More information -- http://urbandharma.org/udharma13/lmuspring09.html

1. Gross National Happiness - from Wikipedia


Gross National Happiness (GNH) is an attempt to define quality of life in more holistic and psychological terms than Gross National Product.

The term was coined by Bhutan's former King Jigme Singye Wangchuck in 1972 soon after the demise of his father King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk who has opened up Bhutan to the age of modernization. It signaled his commitment to building an economy that would serve Bhutan's unique culture based on Buddhist spiritual values. Like many moral goals, it is somewhat easier to state than to define. Nonetheless, it serves as a unifying vision for the Five Year planning process and all the derived planning documents that guide the economic and development plans of the country.

While conventional development models stress economic growth as the ultimate objective, the concept of GNH claims to be based on the premise that true development of human society takes place when material and spiritual development occur side by side to complement and reinforce each other. The four pillars of GNH are the promotion of equitable and sustainable socio-economic development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and establishment of good governance.

Qualitative and quantitative indicators

There is no exact quantitative definition of GNH. [1]

GNH, like the Genuine Progress Indicator, refers to the concept of a quantitative measurement of well-being and happiness. The two measures are both motivated by the notion that subjective measures like well-being are more relevant and important than more objective measures like consumption. It is not measured directly, but only the factors which are believed to lead to it.

According to Daniel Kahneman, a Princeton University psychologist, happiness can be measured using the day reconstruction method, which consists in recollecting memories of the previous working day by writing a short diary.[1]

A second-generation GNH concept, treating happiness as a socioeconomic development metric, was proposed in 2006 by Med Yones, the President of International Institute of Management. The metric measures socioeconomic development by tracking 7 development area including the nation's mental and emotional health.[2] GNH value is proposed to be an index function of the total average per capita of the following measures:

1. 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
2. Environmental Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of environmental metrics such as pollution, noise and traffic
3. Physical Wellness: Indicated via statistical measurement of physical health metrics such as severe illnesses
4. 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
5. Workplace Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of labor metrics such as jobless claims, job change, workplace complaints and lawsuits
6. 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
7. Political Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of political metrics such as the quality of local democracy, individual freedom, and foreign conflicts.

The above 7 metrics were incorporated into the first Global GNH Survey [3]

GNH conferences

The 3rd International Conference on Gross National Happiness Towards Global Transformation: WORLD VIEWS MAKE A DIFFERENCE offered an opportunity to articulate Asian world views towards transformation in a 'message to the world'. It took place in Nong Khai and Bangkok, Thailand between 22 and 28 November 2007.

Implying the transition from a natural to modernized state, the 3rd International Conference on Gross National Happiness (GNH 3) took place in two locations: the first three days took place in rural north-eastern province of Nong Khai and the last three days in the urban campus of Chulalongkorn University in central Bangkok, Thailand. The organizers planned all activities so that participants were able to explore a large variety of venues, presentation and discussion formats and draw on the great variety and talents of the entire group of 800 participants who registered. See website www.gnh-movement.org to download references, pictures, academic papers, sign-up for newsletter and more.

Main co-organizers were the Sathirakoses Nagapradipa Foundation (Thailand), The Center for Bhutan Studies, while local NGOs, progressive business group Social Venture Network and the government of Thailand in particular The Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, Thailand, have formed a support network together with research agencies and other government departments like the Thai Health Promotion Foundation.

"Rethinking Development: Local Pathways to Global Wellbeing", the Second International Conference on Gross National Happiness was held in Antigonish, Nova Scotia June 20–24, 2005, co-hosted by Genuine Progress Index Atlantic (proceedings online); the Coady International Institute; Shambhala; the Centre for Bhutan Studies; the Province of Nova Scotia; the Gorsebrook Research Institute at Saint Mary's University; and the University of New Brunswick.

The second regional Conference took place November 8-11, 2006 at Meiji Gakuin University in Yokohama. The conference examined Haida successes to apply non western economic and social modalities.

Happiness as understood by neo-classical economics

Under neo-classical economic theory happiness, subjectively defined, has long been the standard of measurement used interchangeably with utility as well as the general welfare. Economists attempt to quantify happiness through measurements in consumption and profits. For example if X product is consumed in good quantity for high profit, neo-classical economists argue that individuals know that this good, and all the factors used in the production of the good, generate a great deal of happiness for society. It is this equating of high consumption levels of a good with happiness that has been challenged by proponents of GNH.

External Validation of Bhutan's GNH

In a widely cited study, "A Global Projection of Subjective Well-being: A Challenge to Positive Psychology?" by Adrian G. White of the University of Leicester in 2007, Bhutan ranked 8th out of 178 countries in Subjective Well-Being, a metric that has been used by many psychologists since 1997.[2] In fact, it is the only country in the top 20 "happiest" countries that has a very low GDP.

Criticism of GNH

Critics allege that because GNH depends on a series of subjective judgments about well-being, governments may be able to define GNH in a way that suits their interests. In the case of Bhutan, for instance, they say that the government expelled about one hundred thousand people and stripped them of their Bhutanese citizenship on the grounds that the deportees were ethnic Nepalese who had settled in the country illegally.[3][4] While this would reduce Bhutan's wealth by most traditional measures such as GDP, the Bhutan government claims it has not reduced Bhutan's GNH.

Alternative indicators of economic progress have also been supported by a number of NGOs such as the UK's New Economics Foundation, and are employed in some governments notably in Europe and Canada.

2. Gross National Happiness and Buddhism - by Dasho Karma Ura


The concept and practice of Gross National Happiness originated from the former ruler, the fourth king of Bhutan, H.M. Jigme Singye Wangchuck, in the 1970s. The present king, H.M. Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, has proclaimed the fulfillment of GNH as one of the four main responsibilities in his reign. Thus, GNH is accorded extremely high priority in the nation. Official documents, such as the National Assembly proceedings and other planning documents, frequently refer to GNH or its Dzongkha equivalent, Gyelyong Gaki Pelzom. In April 1986 the exact term GNH appeared in an interview given by His Majesty to the Financial Times of London. The title of the article was "Gross National Happiness Is More Important Than Gross Domestic Product." In that interview, His Majesty questioned the assumption prevailing at that time that collective happiness can be attained by following exclusively the internationally accepted GDP-based development model. His Majesty chose to place strong emphasis on the fact that there is something beyond material goods that people aspire to and that economic growth alone may not achieve happiness. As part of the GNH-related strategy, His Majesty emphasized environmental preservation, decentralization of government decision making, cultural preservation, and other policies that were all quite ahead of the times. But it was not until a few decades later that opinions around the world began to take note of happiness as an interesting alternative path of economic and social development.

The Relevance of GNH for Any Nation

Happiness should be of interest to any nation in the world regardless of its religious creed or political ideology. There is no government or society that is not interested in the longevity of its citizens. In a GNH society, citizens will enjoy greater health and longevity. There are highly suggestive findings pointing to happiness as a significant contributor to improved immune function, which leads to resistance to diseases. By focusing on happiness and well-being, returns on a GNH-oriented policy will include improved health and longevity of the people, ultimately making the economy more efficient by greatly cutting health spending costs.

Another impact of GNH will be the benefit an economy receives from an increased level of creativity and the consequent increase in intangible capital. If the citizens are happy, then they will be more creative and innovative. As a result, the sector of an economy that is based upon technological innovation, organizational improvements, and those factors that drive the economy more than natural resources will be stimulated. In economies like that of the United States, one-third of the exports consists of intellectual property goods, such as cultural products, films, media, technology, software, etc. One of the main inputs to such sectors is creativity or innovation, for which citizens need the requisite autonomy and development of their mental potentials. A GNH society will enable its citizens to express their entrepreneurial qualities and thereby greatly augment the creative sector.

Yet another impact of GNH will be the ability of members of a society to bond together toward a common pursuit. Every nation is interested in maximizing its social capital by fostering the organization of its citizens through all kinds of associations that bring people together in pursuit of common goals. If citizens are happy, their citizenship qualities will be enhanced, as they will be more sociable and altruistic and thus will collaborate more actively within the organizations to which they belong.

The last relevance of GNH to any nation is that it will help ecological sustainability. By all accounts, the world is becoming more and more unsustainable and will become more so unless we change our ways. GNH is interesting globally because of its relationship to ecological sustainability.

The intensity of resource use is based on the proliferation of wants, which is further based on the proliferation of goods and products that are designed for a short use-life so that they must be replaced through continual consumption. Industries deliberately design such schemes in order to sell more goods within a shorter period of time. Consumers are equally vulnerable, as they are led to think that they can dismiss the vacuum they feel in their minds through increasing their purchasing, consumption, and possession. If people are happier, they are less driven to consume by what they perceive as a lack in their lives and more likely to be judicious in their consumption choices. As a result, the ecological impact will be significant due to conserved resources.

GNH as Public Good

If happiness is defined simply as that which makes the individual happy, that which fulfills the individual in terms of a self-conception of what happiness is, then that is an example of what we might call "private happiness." It is different from what we would term "collective happiness," or that which will make all individuals happy and create a society characterized by happiness. When happiness is conceived as "private happiness," the means of obtaining happiness differ according to the needs and tastes of individuals.

Any individual who thinks that he can achieve his own happiness at whatever cost to society neglects the external nature of happiness that is conceived individually and maximized as such. Such maximization of happiness leads to an irresponsible and egocentric "happiness."

The perception of happiness as a "private happiness" does not take into account the needs of others and is therefore irresponsible and egocentric. All negative effects are passed on to other members of society. In order to achieve collective happiness, the principle of interdependence should be considered. We all have two eyes to take care of our own self-interests, but as members of a society we also need a third eye, the eye of wisdom that recognizes interdependence. Thus, with the third eye we can elevate our vision beyond individual self-interest and truly address the happiness of all as a collective goal.

Individuals often resort to inappropriate and unhelpful behavior. In order to deal with problems caused by behavior and judgment that deviate from the pursuit of collective interests, we need to create governments that pursue the public good. Happiness is and must be "public happiness"; it cannot be left to private individual striving and competition. If a government's policy framework and thus the nation's macroconditions are adverse to happiness, it will fail to be attained as a collective goal.

Individuals often make mistakes regarding happiness that cannot be corrected without policy frameworks that address, resolve, and work to prevent such problems from arising again. Government policies must play a crucial role in educating the citizens about collective happiness. It is easy to choose the wrong alternative, such as the purchase of redundant goods that have no effect on our happiness. Citizens and consumers must be educated concerning their choices and the consequences that their choices have from the perspective of collective happiness.

The Means to GNH

As the goal of a GNH society is collective happiness, the means of achieving it must reflect progress toward that end. Our understanding of how the mind achieves happiness affects our very experience of happiness by influencing the means we choose in striving toward satisfaction in life. GNH bases its concept of happiness partly on the Buddhist understanding of reality. But before we explore this relationship, let us look, as a contrast, at the means to happiness as understood by the behavioral sciences.

The behavioral sciences present a model of the mind that reflects the means to happiness shared by most societies today. It portrays the brain as an input-output device developed in order to receive external stimuli that are translated into pleasures, which are also known as utilities in economic literature. In such a model, the brain's basic structure and function are more or less fixed, with any output dependent upon an input coming from some external stimulus. The consequence of this reductionist theory is that happiness and pleasurable feelings are seen as dependent upon external stimuli. In other words, happiness is in general perceived as a direct consequence only of sensory stimulation.

With such an overemphasis on external stimuli as the source of happiness, it is not so surprising that individuals assume that the consumption and accumulation of material goods will increase their happiness. Unfortunately, this has also been the basis for most economic planning. Even after fulfilling necessities and even after reaching a certain level of affluence, the dynamics of economic systems imply that people must continue purchasing and accumulating goods because they are perceived to directly correlate with increased happiness.

Buddhist thought provides views contrary to these assumptions. It understands the sources of happiness quite differently, claiming that pleasurable feelings will be generated by stabilizing human minds and reducing the mental chatter that is a consequence of the unending stream of external stimuli. People can find a good deal of happiness simply by calming the mind through meditation. The process of meditation is to direct the attention inward, where the subject experiences the subject itself, as opposed to the subject perceiving external stimuli.

The Dalai Lama has said that happiness and compassion are skills that can be learned. Using meditation for training, our turbulent emotions and moods can be managed. In other words, pleasant sensations in the brain can take place without any significant external input. If a practitioner trains himself to meditate well, through either religious or secular forms of meditation, he can be quite contented; and the more regular the practice, the more lasting the impact. New research suggests that through persevering for years in meditation, such as in retreats, the brain may even become structurally modified to the degree that the neural pathways in the brain have physically changed.

Relatedly, the Buddhist perspective states that externally derived pleasure only distracts the individual from inner sources of happiness. Consequently, rather than amassing material goods, detachment from the proliferation of wants can significantly contribute to happiness. Thus, the means to happiness as detailed by Buddhist thought differentiates between the quality of happiness achieved through external means and that achieved through internal means, highly elevating the latter. As a result, when the Buddhist view is applied, stationary, stable, sustainable economies can be con-sidered successful. An economy that is continually growing would be seen as a failure because of its inability to promote detachment from the proliferation of wants. People cannot be happy if caught in such a runaway process. One of the disadvantages of many current economies is that they structurally feed the individual's proliferation of wants, and that individual consumption feeds the industries. There is a structural malfeasance where such economies do not know where to stop and what the optimal size of the economy is. If the economy is stationary, it is considered stagnant, but actually it could be a signal that stability in wants has been achieved. As it is directly related to the control of individual wants and desires, such stability may also reflect some psychological stability among consumers.

GNH as a Buddhist Social Contract

H.M. King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck defined GNH as the creation of an enlightened society in which the happiness and well-being of all people is the ultimate purpose of governance. Strictly speaking, it is the well-being of all people plus all sentient beings, as in the Buddhist view, all sentient beings are incipient buddhas and must be treated as such. Humans are not that different from other sentient beings, their main difference resulting from their greater cognitive ability. Hence, under a GNH society, there is an extended view of citizenship encompassing all life forms, such as the humble earthworm that delivers no small ecological service. Those for whom the state works extend beyond the human population.

GNH should be considered as a Buddhist society's equivalent of the social contract, where citizens pursue collective happiness. To be a member of a GNH society requires one fundamental property: to see all things as interdependent with all other things. By being convinced and informed about interdependence, compassion should naturally arise as a person recognizes that his happiness is dependent on all other creatures' welfare. Without this basic understanding, the individual sinks into poor motivation and weaknesses.

Because of the discursive nature of karma, all are part of an intricate web. Karma is simultaneous and is constantly being revised in all of our interactions with one another. Such a view of interdependence sufficiently motivates us to forget our own narrow existence, changing us such that we begin to engage meaningfully with others and pursue collective happiness. By recognizing the true nature of interdependence, one can see that all karma is collective, that all enlightenment is collective, and therefore that happiness and the policies required to promote it must be oriented toward collective achievement.

May all beings attain happiness!

(I would like to thank Peter Hershock, Nick Marks, and Ron Colman for their helpful comments.)

Dasho Karma Ura is the director of the Centre for Bhutan Studies, an autonomous think tank located in Thimphu that encourages public discourse on Bhutanese society. He also serves on several national and international committees. He is the author of a number of books and articles on Bhutanese history, culture, and literature, including The Hero with a Thousand Eyes.

3. World Views Make a Difference: Shaping Globalization - Helena Norberg Hodge - Founder and Director of the International Society for Ecology and Culture (ISEC) and recipient of the Right Livelihood Award. - Speech delivered as a part of panel discussion entitled: World Views Make a Difference: Shaping Globalization on the 27th of November 2007, at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok. Thailand.


I am honored to be on this panel to be with such great thinkers and leaders.

I agree with Ajarn Sulak that we must transform globalization. For thirty years I have been working internationally in many different cultures, with many different language groups. At the grassroots, talking to people, talking to government leaders, political leaders, economists, and also environmental and social activists it is my conviction that we need to be thinking about a shift away from globalizations towards localization. This does not mean only acting at the local lelvel. It does not mean only thinking locally. In fact the important transformation we need to make is to collaborate internationally for a shift in direction towards shortening the distance between production and consumtion, the distance bwtween resources and production.

We are now in a situation where our governments, without exception, around the world are through a blind ideology in the name of free trade are actively promoting a very rapid shift towards even greater distances, towards a system where producers and consumers do not see each other, have no concept of what is happening on what is happening on the other side of the world. Even more frightening is that the investors whether it be pension fund, hedge funds, which is the speculative finance system is also blind. When you invest in a particular commodity you have no idea of what is happening on the ground to the soil, to the water to the people who are affected. I would maintain that this blindness is at the root of the problems we face today, far more than the innate human greed which is so often blamed.

I believe that this scale demands specialization and blindness that means that even well intentioned people are supporting the system that is destroying the people on the planet. If you go around the world today you will find that basic foodstuff from one mile away, cost more than food from 10.000 miles away. We must ask why? How can it be that from Mongolia to the US or South Africa, one pound of butter can cost two times as much, even 5 or 10 times as much as butter from the other side of the world.

In Ladakh or the little Tibet I have watched the process of change that made even mud too expensive for local people. I saw that in order to understand how the global economy works we must look at how the economic system funds a particular type of education, a particular type of science and very importantly a worldview through media and advertising, a worldview which systematically pulls people away from local communities and local resources and pushes them into urban centres where they become depended on products from further away.

But not only that, governments are funding the infrastructure, subsidizing the infrastructure, subsidizing the oil, the transport that artificially lowers the price of export and import and makes local products too expensive too expensive to local people. I have seen that it is true in America as well as in Thailand. I believe that if we have the bigger picture, putting the pieces together we will see that we are right now at a crucial turning point in our evolution. Human evolution on the planet has been one of a dialogue between human beings and their particular ecosystems. The cultural diversity that we see today is the consequences of that deep interdependence of the human life with other life. Most spiritual traditions have encouraged that deep understanding that we are inextricably interconnected with life.

We have the dominant worldview for the last 500 years which grew out of Europe which asserted that human beings were separate from the natural world. Along with that a trading system was brought in usually through slavery and force at the beginning. A system was imposed that separated people from that interdependent and more connected way of life. In the modern era this system operates not by slavery and force, although it sometimes does, but more commonly it is now operating through seduction, though media and educational system that teaches young children that if they are connected to their own soil, own culture, own language, to their own skin color that they are backward and primitive. It is creating psychological need in little children to emulate a consumer culture which is being actively promoted through the media.

This system creates self-hatred and it does so not only in Thailand and Africa and Ladakh but also in the US and Sweden where we now have an epidemic of depression. In the UK last year they prescribed 31 million prescriptions for antidepressants in the country of 60 million people. In the UK, US and Australia there is now regular writing in the media about the epidemic of depression. There is also writing about the epidemic of personal debt and epidemic of obesity. Now I argue that these are connected and they are linked to a rapid increase in CO2 emissions so as CO2 emissions go up so does depression, debt and obesity.

I believe that when we are start thinking about GNH we must look at the bigger picture on how GDP is linked to unhappiness, while we try to work out how GNH can actually contribute to a change in this global system towards rebuilding the local fabric of interdependence. It is not by going backwards, not by trying to emulate lifestyles of a hundreds of years ago or even maintaining the lifestyles of today, but of understanding at fundamental level we need to reweave the fabric of local interdependence between the people and their resources, between people and people or the local community fabric. That is what I call localization. This will happen most effectively through policy change. Policy change that I believe will happen when a group of nations of forward progressive nations link together to collaborate, to make a shift towards protecting small and medium size and national businesses against the monopolistic, maneuverings of globalised finance and business.

I believe it is very important that we maintain our compassion towards the individuals who work in these large institutions, in the bank and corporations. I think that as human beings there is very little difference between them and grassroots activists. I believe that they in those systems they are as blind a many of the people at the grassroots. So together we need to work for that shift in worldview which will allows us to work to make this transformation. However, I have also found that those in positions of power, whether those in World Bank or Monsanto you will find a greater resistance to looking at the big picture. It is partly due to lack to time, partly due to lack of experience and experiential knowledge of the human suffering and the ecological breakdown that we are witnessing.

So personally I believe that we need to be talking policy among ourselves to have clarity about the bigger picture. As we do so I think that many of the solutions that have been presented today are made with the assumption of a globalised market. Not just the assumption but the reality of a market dominated by monopolies. So many of the solutions that we promote can actually be rather counterproductive. I would list among those the believe that the internet is our great salvation. I think we need to realize that the internet has become a tool or a type of commerce, business that is destroying millions of smaller businesses. Businesses that are rooted and therefore under an umbrella of ethical, cultural, ecological considerations. As businesses become globalised also through the internet it becomes a very dangerous tool that separates production from consumption. I believe that we need to be discussing quite urgently the need for regulations of the internet in terms of business while using it for an information exchange, for an international dialogue of how can we protect the environment, community, cultural diversity and real democracy.

Democracy at the momement is actually major contribution to a population explosion, ethnic friction and fundamentalism. In many cultures different ethnic and religious communities are actively trying to increase their numbers in order to have representations in this so called democracy. Urgently we need to look at this issue. We need to really recognize that the United States which promotes democracy has within its own border a majority of people who feel that America is as far from democracy as you can be.

There are other ‘solutions’ and western style schooling is one of them. We urgently need to reexamine what kinds of training it provides. Not just in ethical, spiritual and ecological terms but also in practical terms how it is linked to unemployment, how its linked to a tremendous destruction of rural livelihoods and a scramble into Bangkok, Mexico City or Calcutta where the lives of the majority are actually worse off that they are in the village. The village is by no means perfect but the urban slums are worse and they don’t offer an opportunity for really ecological and community based solutions in the same way that the village and the smaller town does.

So urbanization is a process today of pushing almost half of humanity into a vast urban slums. Urbanization and globalization are linked. Localization is linked to the revitalization of smaller towns and villages and it can happen from the big cities and it is happening already. Consumers are linking up with farmers from the region rebuilding the fabric of interdependence between production and consumption. It is happening in Detroit, in New York, Melbourne, London and so we need to support this process of reconnection between production and consumption.

There are other solutions that within this current global economic system dominated by monopolies and economic system based on blind speculation are not necessarily going to move us in the direction we want to. One of them is microfinance which can be a wonderful strategy for regeneration, community building, sustainability but by and large it has helped to fuel rural urban migration which is very destructive. Trade in carbon or even ending or reducing debt in the so called third world without a systemic change does not necessarily improve the situation. It has been described by Clinton and Shredder as a way of oiling the wheel of globalization. So we are in very complex situation where we really need to look carefully at what type of systemic solutions we really want to support.

Even the notion that in the South or the so called Third world there should be in the name of justice an ability to increase CO2 emission. This argument is essentially a corporate argument. In the South most of the goods for the North are being produced. As you know in the US almost anything you buy is made in China. So CO2 emissions increases in China are actually the dirty laundry from America. We urgently in this era of global warming and now rising oil prices we need really honest global accounting of how much energy people actually need. Peoples’ needs for heating, cooling and adequate and rich sustaining lifestyle, what would that energy consumption really be. If around the world people had access to regional foods, to great diversity, to rebuilding of local economic relationships. The energy consumption today and the debate around energy is a very false one and we need to rethink the basic assumptions and shift the world view.

Finally I want to say that I think that GNH is one of the most important contributions to shifting the worldview and I am very grateful and honored to be a part of this discussion.

4. Happiness / Obama Or McCain For Gross National Happiness? - By Stephen Williamson - Nov 3, 2008


I am writing this in the UK. Here we cannot escape the fact that there is an election going on in the USA. It is all over our televisions and newspapers. Both candidates talk about money, the credit crunch, the state of the stock market. They also look at moral issues such as abortion and make references to USA foreign policy in Afghanistan and Iraq. But who talks about happiness?

What about the happiness of the American voters. Who cares about that? In a recent issue, the Economist on an article on happiness stated:

Happiness, as measured by national surveys, has hardly changed over 50 years. The rich are generally happier than the poor, but rich countries do not get happier as they get richer. The Japanese are much better off now than in 1950, but the proportion who say they are “very happy” has not budged. Americans too have remained much as Alexis de Tocqueville found them in the 19th century: “So many lucky men, restless in the midst of abundance.”

Is it the job of politicians to care for our happiness? Certainly in the remote Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan they think so as it is the only country in the world which puts happiness at the heart of government policy. The government must consider every policy for its impact not only on Gross Domestic Product, but also on GNH: “Gross National Happiness”. Should the US have a Gross National Happiness policy?

Certainly the country you live in can have an effect on you happiness. The New Economics Foundation conducted a survey to calculate the happiness factor 178 countries.

The top 20 are:

1. Switzerland
2. Iceland
3. Sweden
4. Canada
5. Austria
6. Finland
7. Luxembourg
8. Norway
9. New Zealand
10. Australia
11. Denmark
12. Malta
13. Netherlands
14. Ireland
15. Costa Rica
16. Belgium
17. United Arab Emirates
18. Brunei Darussalam
19. United States of America

and the bottom 20 are

158. Turkmenistan
159. Equatorial Guinea
160. Ethiopia
161. Burkina Faso
162. Eritrea
163. Sudan
164. Uganda
165. Sierra Leone
166. Central African Republic
167. Zambia
168. Cote d’Ivoire
169. Angola
170. Niger
171. Chad
172. Rwanda
173. Malawi
174. Lesotho
175. Burundi
176. Congo, Dem. Rep. of the
177. Swaziland
178. Zimbabwe

Bhutan comes in at number 63 which is surprising as a country that uses Gross National Happiness as a guide to its policies should in theory be high on the list!

So, how do you tell if you are happy or not?

Research has shown that happiness has to come from within you. If you’re not content with your life and at peace with yourself, no influences outside of your self such as money or possessions will make you truly happy.

Your Happiness Score

Give yourself marks out of ten for these four questions (0= not at all; 10= to a large extent).

Outlook on life, adaptability and resilience

1) To what extent are you outgoing, energetic, flexible and open to change?
2) Do you have a positive outlook on life, bounce back quickly and feel that you are in control of your fate?
Existence: health, finances and friendships
3) To what extent do you feel your basic needs are met (such as personal, health, financial, sense of community)?

Higher needs, such as self esteem, expectations, ambitions and sense of humour

4) To what extent can you call on the support of those close to you, meet your expectations and feel a clear sense of who you are?

Scoring: Add up your scores for the 4 questions. If you scored 28 or less then you could do with being more happy.

5. Jenss Family Travels: Gross National Happiness - By IT Blog on November 5, 2008 2:30 PM


Rainer Jenss and his family are currently on an around-the-world journey, and they're blogging about their experiences for us at Intelligent Travel. Keep up with the Jensses by bookmarking their posts, and follow the boys' Global Bros blog at National Geographic Kids.

I'm sure most people back home will remember October 2008 as the month the financial crisis gripped the U.S. and the rest of the world. Before our departure to Bhutan, it was hard not to be aware of what was going on. The Japanese and international newspaper headlines, along with CNN International and the BBC all seemed to have 24-hour coverage of the global economic turmoil, not to mention the pending presidential election. Our calls and e-mails to friends and family echoed some serious concern, with many of them telling us that we picked a good time to be out of the country.

So it was with this as a backdrop that we arrived in the country that measures its success by Gross National Happiness (GNH). Being on a National Geographic Expedition, we not only had a resident (and required) guide to help the group navigate through Bhutan and handle all the logistics, we also had an expert, Richard Whitecross along to provide us with a deeper understanding of the county's rich culture, history, religious practices and monarchical rule. Richard is an anthropologist living in Scotland who has been studying and doing research in Bhutan since the 1990s. Having co-authored the Lonely Planet guide to Bhutan and consulted for National Geographic Magazine's recent article on 'Bhutan's Great Experiment', he was certainly well equipped to address everyone's questions about what this GNH was really all about.

To be clear, GNH is actually more of a philosophy than a regulated policy per se (although a GNH commission has officially been formed). Established by the country's 4th King, Jigme Singya Wangchuck, it emphasizes the value of its cultural traditions and protection of the environment versus economic wealth. Not that material and technological progress is being discouraged. We all chuckled at the sight of monks chatting away on cell phones and welcomed internet access to find out if the world was indeed coming to an end. But it's the notion that a country wants to move forward under a different set of guiding principles that makes the concept so intriguing. I for one will be cheering the Bhutanese on as they coronate their 5th King on November 6th (King Wangchuck's 28-year-old son) and hope they will continue to pursue happiness over monetary gain. As the rest of the world pays closer attention to this small landlocked country, the pressure will certainly grow to resist some of the 'temptations' of the West. One advantage they have, however, is the hindsight of learning from some of our mistakes. Maybe our major anxiety over the stock market will serve as such an example.

So what makes the Bhutanese, or Drukpa (people from the Land of the Thunder Dragon), happy anyway? I was told by a researcher from the Centre for Bhutan Studies that the government is actually trying to assess happiness - and not just by measuring employment, education, and overall confidence in the governance of the country. They are also conducting nationwide interviews of the general public to find out where their psychological state of mind is, what their aspirations are, and how they view their country.

Something that probably can't be calculated, though, is the powerful role that Buddhism plays in people's everyday lives and how it has shaped the country's identity. We witnessed this influence everywhere we went, and it seemed to rub off on all of us, particularly Stefan, our 8-year-old (see our last blog post). While visiting the Phobjikha Valley, we were fortunate enough to be there during the tail end of a festival celebrating the consecration of the restored Gantey monastery. People came from far and wide to take part in the ceremonies or just watch the ritual dances performed with haunting beauty. The most memorable part for the boys was the opportunity to be blessed by the presiding lama, Gantey Tulku, the ninth incarnation of the body of Pema Lingpa, one of Bhutan's most revered saints and teachers. The highlight for me was the incredible photo ops this festive atmosphere provided.

Finally, our nine-day journey culminated with a pilgrimage to one of the most venerated temples in all of the Himalayas, the Taktsang Lhakhang or 'Tiger's Nest' as it's best known. For the Jenss family, this proved more than just a five-hour trek to and from a monastery clinging to the side of a vertical granite cliff. It was an opportunity for Carol to take a big step toward defying her fear of heights. The hike involved climbing 1,800 feet to an altitude of almost 11,000 feet. The last stretch, which involves angling down a narrow footpath along the cliff, would normally have turned her right around. But she was determined to visit this most sacred of places, another example of the spell we all seemed to be under while traveling through this awe-inspiring landscape.

So when it comes down to GNH and how it's evaluated, it will ultimately be defined by the Bhutanese themselves. As is so true with almost any travel experience, it's usually the people who we most remember. Even though it's best known for its stunningly beautiful landscapes, flowing rivers and majestic temples and monasteries, it's the photographs I took of children laughing and parents holding their babies that I'll most cherish. Did I find Shangri-La? Maybe. Happiness? Absolutely.


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