The Culture of Happiness

Posted by: Farah Lodi on January 23, 2015 1:01 pm

I recently had an interesting conversation with a young client from Bhutan, which is a small country in the Himalayan mountains bordering India and China. In Bhutan the government measures prosperity- not through the GDP (gross domestic product) like most of the world, but through GNP: Gross National Happiness. 33 indicators which are classified under 9 main domains, are used to come up with a single number which measures the peoples’ gross national happiness. Data is gathered through questionnaires. These domains are: psychological wellbeing, use of time, health, cultural diversity, education, good governance, ecological balance, community vitality and living standards. To sum it up, a combination of these factors measures life satisfaction. Each year the government, non-governmental organizations and businesses strive to increase the measure of a good life, through policy changes and new initiatives. One such simple initiative is a common road sign seen on the many beautiful mountainous roads – no it’s not about speed limit but rather: “life is a journey……complete it!”

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the GNP index in Bhutan started dropping sharply in 1999 – the year when TV was first introduced in this country. More recently, the use of technologies such as smart phones and computers has also been linked to a drop in the national happiness index. People who for centuries followed traditional, collectivist and spiritual Buddhist values (such as nurturing real relationships, modeling respect, and actively practicing patience and gratitude) were now plugged in like the rest of the world – to influences that very often degrade the above mentioned core values. The result has been people reprogramming themselves to needing instant gratification and stimulation, leading to a state of being that is not in harmony with nature, but rather disconnected from it.

The 9 domains used to measure happiness in Bhutan remind me of positive psychologist Martin Seligman’s model of wellbeing: PERMA. His five factors for happiness were positive emotions, engagement in life, relationships that are authentic, meaning in life, and accomplishment. If we have a balance of these going on in our lives, then chances are we will be happier. My client wholeheartedly embraces this. After finishing grad school he plans to return to Bhutan (along with a high percentage of his peers), even though salaries are considerably lower there. Why? Simply because psychological wellbeing is more valuable than material wealth.




*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

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