In Australia, our nation’s wellbeing is primarily measured by economic performance (and perhaps how we’re going in international cricket or rugby tests).
The gross domestic product (GDP) represents the total market value of all goods and services produced within Australia in a given period of time. It’s a measure of growth but at what price? Does it measure the loss of natural resources, disruption of culture or indeed the dis-ease that can metaphorically cripple those ‘fortunate’ to live in a lucky country like Australia (last year Australia ranked the 9th ‘happiest’ nation in the world based on a formula taking in GDP, life expectations and social supports).
Monday 20 March 2017 is the United Nations’ International Day of Happiness.
In thinking of alternate ways to measure a nation’s wellbeing, I sought out Bronwyn Roberts, a Gross National Happiness Ambassador to Bhutan, the tiny land-locked Asian nation wanting to develop economically but not at the expense of its people’s contentment. Bronwyn, a laughter wellbeing professional facilitator, divides her time between her hometown of Melbourne and Bhutan.
Heather Joy: Please explain Gross National Happiness.
Bronwyn Roberts: Bhutan’s Government and its people believe that the fundamental values of kindness, equality, humanity and unity are necessary for economic growth and every Government policy and development plan must meet the requirements of GNH before being accepted.
Heather Joy: Gross National Happiness has been around for a while, the 1970s, right?
Bronwyn Roberts: While GNH formally replaced GDP as the measure of Bhutan’s success in 1971, the idea is much older as the Legal Code of 1729 shows, “…if the Government cannot create happiness for its people, there is no purpose for the Government to exist.”
For the people of Bhutan GNH is a way of life. We might equate the GNH Index to a census, completed every few years, to assess the happiness of the people and to guide future development embedded with values. From the Bhutanese, I have learned that true happiness isn’t found in the fleeting joy of owning the latest thing or earning more than others do.
Heather Joy: ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ is definitely over-rated!
Bronwyn Roberts: True happiness, that feeling of inner contentment, is found in the connections with our community, the way we care for our environment, in acceptance of different and in the way we practise compassion and kindness to others, to our community, to our environment and to ourselves. These are all what Bhutanese call basic humanity.
Heather Joy: Can GNH Index be adapted more broadly into our western context?
Bronwyn Roberts: To me, it’s not about adapting the index but adapting the guiding principles of GNH, its 4 pillars – good governance, sustainable socio-economic development, preservation and promotion of culture, and environmental conservation.
I work with many small community groups and small communities and I smile that perhaps without even knowing about GNH most operate within its principles through caring for their community, culture and environment, maintaining sustainable development and practising good governance.
Heather Joy: What has been your greatest learning?
Bronwyn Roberts: An elderly farmer put GNH into clear context with just 7 words: “Life should be about us, not me.”
What difference can you make on Monday 20 March, International Day of Happiness, to help yourself?
- It may be as simple as sharing a smile throughout the day.
- Consider attending a laughter club in your area. Check here for localities.
- Check out the Action for Happiness for suggestions.
And before you leave the house, try Bronwyn Roberts’ simple “make me happy” exercise, learned in Bhutan:
- Roll your shoulders back
- Stand tall
- Breathe in deeply
- Smile gently – and repeat.
You are now ready to face any day!
(c) Heather Joy Campbell 2017