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The post-election hangover is lifting and we are embracing life in The United States of Thank Goodness the Election is Finally Over. As the polls began to close and the unthinkable became thinkable, our friends up in Canada got a surprise: the nation’s immigration site, the place where you go to learn how to move to the Great White North, crashed, as traffic swelled to twelve times its normal volume (Canadian officials, fearing a flood of American immigrants, are now making plans to build a huge, beautiful wall….). New Zealand’s immigration site was also disabled by a flood of traffic from Americans apparently considering all their options. Russia’s and Iran’s immigration sites were unaffected.
If you are considering a move, let me make a suggestion: Bhutan. A nation of less than one million, it sits nestled in the Himalaya mountains, largely isolated from the world. It only began voting in 2008, and its culture was profoundly shaped by one of the most benevolent monarchs ever to rule. Columbia University’s very first World Happiness Report featured a case study on this unique nation. On most lists, Bhutan is ranked as the happiest nation on earth.
Today most countries measure success using “Gross National Product” (GNP), which is a single number that summarizes the value of all the goods and services produced by the economy in a year. It’s sort of like a report card for how your economy did last year, and it’s the national equivalent of your personal income, so politicians and economists talk about it a lot. That measurement makes sense for the US, since our nation focuses largely on growth and achievement and increasing our national and personal wealth. But in Bhutan, they measure something else, a concept their king first described in 1972: Gross National Happiness (GNH).
GNH is what you measure if you are less concerned about profits and more concerned about quality of life. It encompasses ideas like living in a way that is not self-destructive, and promoting positive values. It originally focused on values inherent to Buddhism, but today this and several related measures incorporate a much broader range of elements. Globally, the happiness movement seems to be gaining momentum. In 2012 the city of Seattle launched its own measure of well-being, and in 2014 the United Kingdom did the same. Earlier this year the United Arab Emirates swore in a new cabinet, including a unique post: Minister of State for Happiness. The Prime Minister described the post as being responsible for creating “social good and satisfaction” as part of a broader government push in the areas of youth, education, and the environment. So now there is actually a government official in a developed country whose singular focus is on making life better for the nation’s citizens (insert your own comment here about politicians), and all this began in a tiny mountain nation that most of us can’t locate on a map. Or spell correctly. Or pronounce (it’s “Boo-Tan” (rhymes with blue can), not Button or Butt-an, unless you speak British (“Boo-tahn,” rhymes with who gone) or Texan (“Booooooow-tayy-yun,” be sure to pronounce all six syllables).
Before you move to Bhutan, you should know a few things. Wild marijuana grows on the hillsides, free for the taking; ironically, smoking of any kind is illegal. Bummer, dude. The movies are all G-rated. There is a national dress code. In short, you would give up some things in order to live there, but of course, it all depends on what you want out of life.
Some outsiders are worried for Bhutan. A highway now connects Bhutan to the world, where once you had to take a small plane. Tourists have discovered the kingdom, and their presence, along with their currency, will alter Bhutan in unpredictable ways. The most popular television show in Bhutan today is American wrestling, so that one is on us. If, as we discussed here, industrialization and growth are inherently threatening to personal well-being, Bhutan may be taking the first halting steps along the path to becoming more modern…but less happy.
One final thought on this real magic kingdom: besides Gross National Happiness, Bhutan does measure its Gross National Product. The nation’s economic strategy, however, is not evaluated on how rapidly it will expand the economy, but on how it will impact the well-being of the population. In other words financial goals matter, but are secondary to people’s well-being, a choice that makes it all the more satisfying to learn that Bhutan’s GNP has been growing faster than 90% of the other nations on earth.
In the corporate world you will find a relative handful of companies that take a Bhutan-like approach to their business, stating and demonstrating that they place other things ahead of profits, and then trusting that the financial results will follow. Do companies do well when they do good? The data on this is decidedly mixed, despite what zealots on both side of the argument claim. But I have to wonder how our nation might change if our federal government, which now consumes 21% of our Gross Domestic Product, included someone whose primary task was to insure that policy decisions were not just good for political parties or well-funded corporations or those with enough money to influence the process, but for average people trying to enjoy life a little more. I suspect we would see some notable changes in policies. I suspect we won’t see this any time soon. I suspect you also suspect that, because you and I are just suspicious that way.
I realize you are probably not going to move to Bhutan, so do the next best thing and make some policies of your own. How does The United States of You measure success? If you have a choice to spend the weekend making more money or living more life, which choice will your policies dictate? When you evaluate 2016 as we head into 2017, what measures will you use, and what defines success for you, and what does this tell you about your priorities? In your personal kingdom, who advocates for happiness, rather than just climbing the ladder? Regardless of what your national government chooses, in your life you get to choose what really matters. Is your Gross Personal Happiness growing or shrinking?
Next Time: A country consumed with thoughts of death
Which Disney park is really the happiest place on earth? Is Florida Mickey more fun than Tokyo Mickey? What is Goofy anyway? Suzy Strutner reveals the winner here.
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