I like to read, and although I’ve been told numerous times that my habit of reading while I eat lunch is not healthy, I persist. Some days that’s the only time I get to indulge myself in the pages of a magazine or newspaper. Things took a new turn recently, however, when I happened on an article about Bhutan.
It seems that the traditional king from the historical ruling dynasty could see that the long history of isolation was coming to an end, and he began to carefully allow some accommodation to the modern world. He soon abdicated to his son, and the government converted to a constitutional monarchy two years ago. The first elected Prime Minister, Jigmi Y. Thinley, is a former royal administrator and graduate of Pennsylvania State University. Thinley has been concerned that some of the less attractive attributes of western modernism, namely materialism and a tolerance for violence, are creeping into the country via TV and the internet.
Mainly a Buddhist nation, the Bhutanese believe that the essence of happiness and wisdom lies in being satisfied with what you have, and that there is such a thing as “enough.” Mr. Thinley was concerned that the Bhutanese, exposed to the materialistic society portrayed in the media, would become dissatisfied and unhappy. He decided that the government needed a measure of Gross National Happiness, and that it would be more important than the Gross National Product measure currently used worldwide. Who could argue? What use is all that material prosperity if it isn’t making anyone happy? He consulted with a Canadian Maritime think-tank, GPI, which produced a “Genuine Progress Index” for Nova Scotia several years ago, and the result is the Gross National Happiness index. Created as a rigourous statistical measure, it is based on four essential pillars: “environmental conservation, cultural preservation, sustainable and equitable development, and good governance.” The prime minister then went even further, convening a workshop in education based in these ideas, and adopting its findings as policy.
As I ruminated and cogitated over my lunch, I started to wonder. I wondered, since we haven’t got a GNH in this country, if maybe I should just have one for myself, a Gross Personal Happiness measurement. But then I guess I do, when I check in at the end of the day noticing all the things that I’m grateful for. Gratitude is certainly key to happiness. Sometimes imbalance is at the root of unhappiness. If prosperity increases faster than gratitude, or faster than useful occupation (ie: winning the lottery), there is an imbalance. If material desires increase faster than prosperity, there is a feeling of lack created where there is no lack, just overgrown desires. Or in some extreme cases, when spiritual awareness increases in one direction while practical matters are neglected, wisdom cannot grow because the necessary lessons are not available.
I also wondered what would happen if a large number of us decided to make decisions based on our “happiness quotient”, realizing of course that we need to balance our happiness so that everyone’s happiness increases, not just our own. We would soon discover that our own happiness is based in giving happiness to each other, and to the world at large.
There was a lot to think about as I returned to the activities of my day, and I vowed to consider new ways to increase my Gross Personal Happiness. Want to join me?
Jean Wrohan is a student of Science of Mind, and a Nia instructor in Campbell River. “In movement we find health.”