Today is the 2nd day of Christmas, and much of the world will be taking a well-deserved break to be with their families and friends – and we wish a merry Christmas to any of our readers. Since it’s a day for positivity and good feelings, I thought I’d take the opportunity to write about something hopeful, rather than focusing on one of the (many) problems the world is facing for once. I thought I’d take a look at a concept which has cheerfulness in its very name – Gross National Happiness.
The concept was first developed in the Himalayan nation of Bhutan – a little mountain kingdom wedged in between India and China. Bhutanese society is strongly Buddhist, and also very communal. The Bhutanese have been farmers and monks for most of their existence, and have abundant supplies of water and land to suit the needs of their small population. Generally speaking, they live a happy life. However, by modern western standards, they are extremely poor – they don’t manufacture consumer goods, they don’t have big suburban houses with two cars in the garage, there is no stock market or financial district in the capital, Thimpu. By gross domestic product (GDP), the usual measurement of progress in the modern world, the Bhutanese are doing terribly. Yet they seem to be fairly happy and content.
The idea of Gross National Happiness, or GNH, is that money is not the only relevant yardstick for measuring progress and success among societies. Instead, we can measure other attributes that make people feel like they have fulfilling lives – physical health, mental health, job satisfaction, environmental health, and levels of community interaction. If a country has a high GDP, but its people are stressed out, hate their job, and never talk to their friends or neighbours, how successful is it really? Equally, if a country has a low GDP, but the people are fit and live long, enjoy their work, and spend their days and evenings with their loved ones, are they really that poor?
This is a concept which does not have to remain unique to Bhutan. With some tweaks to account for our different ways of life, GNH could easily be imported to the rest of Asia and the other continents. Some links have already begun to be made – the ‘degrowth’ movement, which has its strongest roots in France, has argued that GDP should be replaced with GNH as a key indicator, and in the UK the New Economics Foundation has devised its own happiness ranking called the ‘happy planet index’.
Of course, GNH isn’t perfect, and won’t solve all of our problems – it’s only designed to measure levels of happiness, after all, not actively change them. To improve our ‘happiness score’, serious political and economic action will need to be taken to introduce a more fair and just society with greater levels of equality and more focus on community and family values rather than commercialism, individualism, and industry. But it does provide us with some hope that the future will not just be measured by profit forecasts and budget spreadsheets. And it allows us to see that even those who seem to be the losers in our economic system may have something to offer – while they might not be as monetarily successful as the CEOs and bankers, they might just be happier in their own way. And that thought should give us some holiday cheer. Merry Christmas everyone!