Even from my earliest childhood growing up in New York I recall that wherever I went people were talking about how successful this or that person was—"He's a doctor", "He works for a big firm", "He made a lot of money in the stock market", etc. And again, even from earliest childhood, I could never understand why people always talked about how "successful" everyone was, with hardly a word about how "happy" this or that person was.

Many years later, just recently in fact, I came upon a wonderful article about a king (yes, a king!), of this fascinating little nation called Bhutan tucked away between such Asian giants as China and India. Bhutan is no ordinary nation. It is one of the most isolated nations in the world. Most of Bhutan is covered in forest, there are fewer than 2.5 million people in the entire nation, Buddhist culture and religion are everywhere and only in 1999 was the ban on television and internet lifted. Per capita income in Bhutan is around $1,400, ranked 124th in the world. More than 80% of the population live as subsistence farmers.

And here is the most fascinating point: despite being among the world's poorer nations, Bhutan is also one of the happiest nations on earth! Over 20 years ago, amidst criticism from Western economic experts that Bhutan was not developing "fast enough", the King of Bhutan went on record as saying "Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product." The statement signaled his commitment to building an economy that is appropriate for Bhutan's culture and people, based on Buddhist spiritual values, and has served as a unifying vision for the economy. While Bhutan has been very successful till recently in isolating itself from world modernization and globalization, the big challenges are ahead as internet and television have entered the lives of Bhutanese only very recently…

In a survey in 2005, 45 percent of Bhutanese reported being very happy, 52 percent reported being happy and only three percent reported not being happy. Based on this data, the Happy Planet Index estimates that the average level of life satisfaction in Bhutan is within the top 10 percent of nations worldwide, and certainly higher than other nations with similar levels of GDP per capita.

While there will always be skeptics and "experts" who will dwell on all the many questions that can be asked about what is happiness, how is it measured, who says what, how it was measured, and so on…today more and more western economic psychologists, such as  2002 Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman,  question the link between levels of income and happiness.

I ask: can't we simply observe our lives, ourselves, the lives of those closest to us and understand that while money has importance to us in so many ways, happiness does not equal having money and having money does not equal having happiness? And once having done so, what do we do with that observation?

A wonderful video clip on Bhutan and Gross National Happiness


Pretty cool for a king, ay?

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