Thursday, September 29, 2011

on money and happiness

Monasteries of Bhutan, photo from Bhutan Travel Inc

I was walking home with B, and she asked me, "Who came up with money anyway? It's like people can't be happy without money. Why can't everyone just do things for each other for free?"

I said I'd often thought the same thing. How correlated are wealth and happiness really? I remember being quite struck by the way things worked in the Land of Oz: "There were no poor people in the land of Oz, because there was no such thing as money, and all property of every sort belonged to the Ruler. Each person was given freely by his neighbors whatever he required for his use, which is as much as anyone may reasonably desire.

"Every one worked half the time and played half the time, and the people enjoyed the work as much as they did the play, because it is good to be occupied and to have something to do. There were no cruel overseers set to watch them, and no one to rebuke them or to find fault with them. So each one was proud to do all he could for his friends and neighbors, and was glad when they would accept the things he produced" (The Emerald City of Oz, by L. Frank Baum).

I read an interesting Project Syndicate article a couple of days back. It was titled, Can We Increase Gross National Happiness? In my newspaper, it was also subtitled, Bhutan is showing the way and the hope is that the goal becomes global happiness.

The eloquent, insightful article is by Peter Singer, Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University and Laureate Professor at the University of Melbourne. Its focus is The Kingdom of Bhutan, which is located at the eastern end of the Himalayas, and bordered by China and India.

Mr Singer begins: "The small Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is known internationally for two things: high visa fees, which reduce the influx of tourists, and its policy of promoting "gross national happiness" instead of economic growth. The two are related: more tourists might boost the economy, but they would damage Bhutan’s environment and culture, and so reduce happiness in the long run".

He goes on to describe attending a conference organised by Prime Minister Jigme Y in Bhutan's capital Thimphu, on "Economic Development and Happiness": "Never before have I been at a conference that was taken so seriously by a national government".

Further on, he writes, "Bhutan has a Gross National Happiness Commission, chaired by the prime minister, which screens all new policy proposals put forward by government ministries. If a policy is found to be contrary to the goal of promoting gross national happiness, it is sent back to the ministry for reconsideration. Without the Commission’s approval, it cannot go ahead.

"One controversial law that did go ahead recently – and that indicates how willing the government is to take tough measures that it believes will maximize overall happiness – is a ban on the sale of tobacco. Bhutanese may bring into the country small quantities of cigarettes or tobacco from India for their own consumption, but not for resale – and they must carry the import-tax receipt with them any time they smoke in public".

This alone makes me go, Wow.

"Last July, the UN General Assembly passed, without dissent, a Bhutanese-initiated resolution recognizing the pursuit of happiness as a fundamental human goal and noting that this goal is not reflected in GDP. The resolution invited member states to develop additional measures that better capture the goal of happiness. The General Assembly also welcomed an offer from Bhutan to convene a panel discussion on the theme of happiness and well-being during its 66th session, which opens this month.

"These discussions are part of a growing international movement to re-orient government policies towards well-being and happiness. We should wish the effort well, and hope that ultimately the goal becomes global, rather than merely national, happiness".

I remember reading an article on Bhutan in National Geographic Traveler by contributing editor Boyd Matson. "Although most of us give lip service to the cliché, "Money can't buy you happiness," in our hearts we believe a big pile of cash can make a sizable down payment and at a minimum put smiles on our faces," Mr Matson wrote. "To us, if a country's economic development isn't measured in dollars, it doesn't make sense. So the story of Bhutan and the King's commitment to Gross National Happiness (GNH) sounds like a fairy tale".

One Bhutanese told him, "In our most beautiful places, we build temples and monasteries, and everybody goes there. In your most beautiful places, you build five-star resorts, and only the very rich go there".

Hm. Penny for your thoughts?

Read Mr Singer's article here. Read Mr Matson's article here.

1 comment:

my thrifty closet said...

what a great inspiration from Bhutan. We have a lot to learn. You're right to say HAppiness cannot be based on economic success. We are going through so much stress and hard work to be successful that I've been questioning why and for what.



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