Lessons from the Kingdom of Happiness
However the world changes, the pursuit of happiness is an enduring process in our lives. Such endeavours may seem like a personal pursuit, yet Bhutan sees it as a national goal and continues to implement strategies to bring the Bhutanese closer to happiness.
What is Happiness? In modern industrialised societies, happiness more often refers to having a comfortable life, and posits that well-being is influenced by one’s economic prosperity. Bhutan has a different mindset. It conceptualises the meaning of happiness holistically by recognising different aspects of life — namely spiritual, material, physical and social well-being.
They Measure Their Happiness
Instead of measuring success using gross domestic product (GDP), Bhutan chose to measure the country’s progress using gross national happiness (GNH). GNH was formalised after the 1970s as part of the development ideologies that shaped government policies. The methodologies and philosophy behind the GNH was also standardised for measurement. GNH encompasses nine domains: community, culture, governance, knowledge and wisdom, health, spirituality and psychological welfare, a balanced use of time, harmony with the environment and standard of living.
These domains come under the four pillars: governance, economic, cultural and environmental. By viewing happiness as a holistic development, Bhutan seeks to make wise, progressive decisions in national development while preventing the loss of their identity, customs and spiritual beliefs.
They Are Well-Rested
While many people don’t get sufficient sleep, in its latest GNH study, Bhutan found an increase in seven percent for people who get at least eight hours of sleep a day. Scientific research suggests, six to eight hours of sleep is strongly linked to good health and better functionality. Conversely in industrialised societies, it is common to see people suffer from sleep deficiency.
They Face Their Deepest Fears
It is not surprising to see that most of us respond to fear through avoidance. As mentioned in a 2015 BBC article, the Bhutanese take a different approach to facing their fears. For instance, they acknowledge the thought of death, and face those fears head on. Through such exposure, they automatically switch to happy thoughts after “figuring death out”, and focus on deriving pleasure from day-to-day life. And in a broader sense, the Bhutanese embrace their negative emotions.
Typically, we view negative emotions as a problem, and want to eradicate them as soon as possible. However, this causes us to become fearful of the negative emotion. Acceptance of sadness is an important part of releasing the fear of sadness itself.
They Limit Their Technology Use
It may be time to put the smartphone away. Make time for other important activities. Facebook can wait. As frequent users of online social networking platforms, we are caught in a myriad of social approval — or FOMO (fear of missing out) — and become overwhelmed by the information overload. According to Ofcom’s Media Use and Attitudes report in 2015, young people aged 16-24 spend about 27 hours a week on the internet. That is double the internet consumption of 10 years ago.
Bhutan has managed to resist the technology disruptions by keeping off the internet. While this might have limited their knowledge of the external world, it certainly gave them more time for growth in other areas. In the future, Bhutan hopes to develop economically by diversifying its energy generation methods while striving to become a carbon negative nation. This first move towards balancing environmental health and sustainable economic development goals allows other countries to follow its example — happy news indeed.
This article first appeared in HQ Asia (Issue 10) 2016.