Gross National…Happiness

The conventional measure of a country’s success is usually considered to be Gross National Product (GNP), the total value of goods and services produced in a year. Economic activity and conditions are important - we all need to make a living, we’ve all got to eat - but is this the defining goal of human existence? What about happiness, beauty, compassion, ethical integrity, community? What is the relationship between money and happiness? How would we measure national happiness?

These questions have been studied in the Himalayan nation of Bhutan, where they have devised a Gross National Happiness (GNH) index, based on four pillars:

* Good governance

* Sustainable socioeconomic development

* Preservation and promotion of culture

* Environmental conservation

It was felt that the traditional key performance indicators about income and investment were missing out on a larger, moral truth, “that aggregate final optimal value which we call happiness”, according to Dasho Karma Ura at the Center for Bhutan Studies in Thiumphu, Bhutan.

These questions may be of interest to those of us (and others) in a country founded on the notion that “all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.

Defining life is pretty easy; liberty and happiness less so, which leads me back to the beginning: GNP. If I were to believe the relentless and ubiquitous barrage of advertising, happiness is mine if I (can) buy the products. Pursuing the strategy of “get more stuff” has not resulted in meaningful or lasting happiness in my experience, but stuff can be good for other things.

These are some useful questions to consider, for some perspective on GNP, happiness, business as usual, and Gross National Consumption (GNC).

These ideas and questions resonated with me when I read about them, which is why I share them here. In particular, a quote from Dasho Karma Ura brought a hope that it might sometimes apply to my work in vision arts:

‘People feel happy when they see something which makes them pause and think, “ah, this is beautiful, meaningful, ethical” ’


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