A Lamb Leading Lions: France Wants Bhutanese Happiness

Bhutan is one of Earth’s poorest and happiest countries, hugged between China and India with about 700,000 people. We compare nations with Gross Domestic Product, the amount of wealth we can share. They use Gross National Happiness – psychological wellbeing in money’s place.

Bhutan defines happiness with 72 categories including time use, living standards,  mental fitness, community vitality, health, education and ecology. These pave four main pillars: Development, Culture, the Environment and Good Governance.

Even Griffith can grasp this, with our stereotype of wine/fruit/drug moguls clutching money bags and sneering “Happiness? I don’t need happiness! Go back to your board games, or whatever poor people do!” We’re all wired to find contentment. A recent BusinessWorld article states that economics is designed so the goods we buy gain value with time. We always pursue more material comfort and happiness, or ‘utility’ in Jargon.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy plans to replace GDP with Bhutan’s GNH model. He claimed that by chasing money, “the world almost plunged into chaos” recently, announcing “A great revolution is waiting for us.”

Sarkozy, no! Do you like having a head? Never invite the French to a revolution!

This has unleashed earth-shaking debate among sworn materialists, enlightened hippies and the microscopic minority in between. Any argument so close to home will shove almost all of us to one extreme side – maybe those who aren’t shaken and swept up see the objective truth, but 99% of the time, they’re drowned out by the loudest, blindest voices. Not GNH – everyone is on its side against an atom-tiny few on the GDP axis.

Of course a poor country with nothing to lose created GNH first. Personal gain is a cycle – the more we have, the more we crave. Where were billboards and three minute ad breaks when we were medieval farmers, or stone-age hunters?

TV didn’t arrive in Bhutan until 1999. This idea tortures us, the way living without every little luxury hurts a tycoon’s 12-year-old son. Because we left our other entertainment behind, our creativity doesn’t grow out of necessity, and we who grow up with the screen need it. We only desire what we don’t have anymore, and TV hadn’t robbed Bhutan until then.

This liberated bliss has earned GNH countless jokes. More evidence for it – nice, revolutionary ideas usually draw oceans of blood. Satire newspaper The Onion reports on its introduction in 1971:

“King Singye Wangchuck ascends the throne, stating his goal to increase Gross National Happiness. President Richard Nixon cuts off diplomatic relations, stating that Wangchuck’s goal is diametrically opposed to that of the United States.”

Appearing in The Area News, Griffith, Friday October 2

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