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[greenyes] If You're Happy and You Know It Clap Your Hands



A Wealth of Happiness
October 8, 2004; Page A14

THIMPHU, Bhutan -- Five years ago, Tashi Wangyal had it all: a Masters
degree in philosophy from Cambridge University, a beautiful girlfriend, and
an attractive job offer as a consultant in London. But the scholarship
student, then 25 years of age, threw it all away for a $120-a-month job in
Bhutan, the isolated Buddhist kingdom perched in the Himalayas.
The Bhutanese native's decision confounded his university friends,
particularly classmates from neighboring India and Nepal who dreamed of
working abroad in high-paying jobs. But Mr. Wangyal thought long and hard
about a different commodity that preoccupies the minds of his fellow
Bhutanese: happiness.
"The reason was fairly simple: the more I traveled and lived abroad, the
more I learned to appreciate what we had at home," he says.
Despite Bhutan being among the poorest nations in the world, almost all of
its scholarship students studying overseas return home after graduation. One
reason they cite: The Bhutanese government has not only pushed forward with
improvements in health care, education and the environment, it has also
actively pursued the more elusive goal of promoting its nation's happiness.
A few years ago, the government threw out the usual indicators measuring
progress, replacing them instead with an innovative model -- called "gross
national happiness" -- that now has researchers and think-tank agencies
around the world taking note. While GNH isn't something that can be charted
or ranked, Bhutan's concept embraces everything from protecting natural
resources to promoting a strong national culture and ensuring democratic
governance -- goals that help create a foundation of happiness for citizens.
"Bhutan is a very rare example, probably the only example in the world, of a
country that has built happiness into the center of its development
strategy," says Ron Coleman, director of GPI Atlantic, a Canadian nonprofit
research organization that studies the quality of life. "They are
sacrificing short-term income for long-term social health."
It's not only Bhutan that is questioning the value of measuring material
wealth without regard to a more comprehensive notion of fulfillment.
The World Values Survey, a group of international social scientists,
released a report last year that ranked happiness by country. The study,
which analyzes the impact of values and beliefs on political and social life
through a series of questionnaires, concluded that the African country of
Nigeria is the happiest in the world, perhaps a result of its residents'
striking tendency to describe their emotional highs in extreme terms; the
U.S. came in at 16.
At least one marketing firm in the U.S. is interested in tweaking the old
GDP model to take into account well-being. And Ed Diener, a professor of
psychology at the University of Illinois, has been asked by the Gallup
Organization, the U.S.-based research and polling group, to create a
national well-being index. Although the initiative has just begun, "the goal
is to design something that could sit next to the Dow Jones average [stock
index] in the corner of the TV screen," he says.
Mr. Diener has spent the past 18 years studying the link between happiness
and prosperity. He's trying to debunk the notion that gross domestic
product, a measure of a country's economic production, provides an accurate
snapshot of national well-being.
Mr. Diener recently analyzed more than 150 studies on wealth and happiness,
copublishing a comprehensive report, "Beyond Money: Toward an Economy of
Well-Being." His conclusion on global progress: "Although economic output
has risen steeply over the past decades, there has been no rise in life
According to Mr. Diener's report, as societies attain a certain level of
wealth, income becomes less of a factor in people's level of contentment.
Emotional well-being is determined not necessarily by your bank account, but
by the quality of social relationships, enjoyment at work, job stability,
democratic institutions and strong human rights.
Emotional well-being is something Bhutan's King Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye
Wangchuck has been pursuing for his subjects since he ascended the throne in
1972. Like Mr. Diener, the king sought an alternative to the GDP progress
ranking. His philosophy was this: GDP reveals precious little about a
nation's true wealth. Leaders shouldn't only strive for material wealth,
they must also cultivate inner contentment.
Master Plan
The concept was formalized in 1998, with the prime minister of the time,
Lyonpo Jigmi Thinley, charged with articulating the government's new master
plan, dubbed the Four Pillars of Happiness. These pillars -- sustainable
economic development, conservation of the environment, the promotion of
national culture, and good governance -- create conditions "in which every
individual will be able to pursue happiness with reasonable success," says
Mr. Thinley.
First and foremost, in the wake of globalization, the tiny kingdom of
Bhutan -- population 828,000 -- had to push reforms that would stimulate its
economic development. But the key, as outlined in the first pillar, was
"sustainable" economic development. This meant prioritizing long-term
healthcare, education and social economic services over other infrastructure
needs. To this end, about a quarter of the country's annual budget was set
aside for hospital services and schools.
The second pillar, conservation of the environment, was also given top
priority in the country's new development scheme. Rather than throw open the
country's doors to foreign investment and sell off its precious natural
resources, the country kept investors at bay, banned the export of
unprocessed timber, and restricted the number of tourists to about 6,000 per
The third pillar, the promotion of culture, was considered essential to
maintain spiritual balance. Anchoring his subjects in religious practice was
part of the king's master plan. And finally, the last goal was good
governance. In 1998, the king accelerated the process of democratization by
voluntarily divesting himself of some of his powers. The government's
Council of Ministers is now elected and vested with full executive powers.
Not only was Mr. Thinley charged with helping to draft these policies to
ensure happiness, but the king assigned him "the task of taking the concept
of GNH beyond our borders." The graying statesmen didn't relish the job: "I
went, but with a great sense of hesitation because we had no idea how it
would be received," he recalls.
But the world has been hungry for a little happiness. In the past few years
Mr. Thinley has been talking about GNH on the international speakers
circuit, including at a United Nations' conference in Seoul in 1998.
Bhutan may also generate its own quantifiable happiness index for use
abroad. Mr. Coleman, of GPI Atlantic, is hoping to work with the Center for
Bhutan Studies to calculate a well-being ranking that will factor in human
Peter Anderson, President
4513 Vernon Blvd. Suite 15
Madison, WI 53705-4964
Ph: (608) 231-1100
Fax: (608) 233-0011
Cell: (608) 698-1314
eMail: anderson@no.address

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