A Full Circle Journey In Search Of Happiness
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The Bhutanese themselves are proud of GNH, but still debate its principles and success. It has, for example, been criticised for having a top-down focus.
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Bhutan has worked hard to lift itself out of rural poverty and provide healthcare and education for its citizens. Women are in a much better social position than other comparable countries. The country suffers from youth unemployment, drug abuse, domestic violence and the strain of urbanisation on resources.
It still battles poverty and gender inequality, and nor does Bhutan score highly on human rights, especially for its ethnic Nepalese minority. GNH is still based on the top-down conformity of an organised religion, even if Buddhism is attractive to many, and a dominant mono-culture, difficult principles for secular and humanist thinkers. Nor should we think that all is bad in the west, to take for granted how our culture, and capitalism bustles with energy, innovation, curiosity, ideas and cosmopolitanism.
Globalisation has become a dirty word for those who forget they drink Belgium beers, support teams with international players, watch Norwegian thrillers and eat Thai curries. If all buildings in Bhutan conform to their distinctive architecture, however charming it may be, how does it innovate and develop new ideas? The happiest places to live appear to be the Scandinavian countries, especially Finland.
The ingredients of their success appear to be strong social safety nets, relative equality, good education, progressive family and women policies, a sense of collective equal identity but enough personal freedom to make choices. There is a generosity of spirit and nurturing of social connections.
Finland, like Bhutan, actively wants to address its social problems, and not shrug its shoulders, abandoning them it to market forces. It is well-documented that earning more money , beyond satisfying basic need, rarely makes you happier. Switzerland is ranked 6 th in the index, nine places above the UK. When I once travelled through Switzerland for work, it was lovely — the finest of old bourgeoise central Europe. After three days of charming architecture, polite locals, clean air and grand mountain scenery I began to yearn for urban grit, for dry miserablist humour, for a Brutalist tower, a thumping bass from a passing car, some graffiti.
That British rough, our rainy gothic ways, our haunted blighted land, our grime, has contributed some wonderful poetry, music, ideas and culture to the world. It defeats and raises us. So does it make us weirdly happy? Or, put another way do we really want to be happy in the way we think we do? I was at a Kathryn Joseph concert just before I left for Bhutan.
Happiness Walk and Research Project Stats (as of 9/20/19)
Kathryn Joseph is brilliant, talented and funny as she sings and jokes with a dark humour familiar to those who have suffered from personal tragedy. It must be so boring. Her call to embrace life, and its full spectrum of emotions and incidents returns full circle to happiness and Buddhism. My knowledge of Buddhism is more limited than it should be, but it seems to respond very well to the reality of life.
Decades of research have concluded that happiness is determined by the quality of our relationships, our health and having a purpose in our life. Find meaning. Find purpose. Find authenticity. Nourish your social connections, unless you love your solitude in which case treasure that.
Stay healthy. Have sex.
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Find a hobby. Connect to nature. Go walking.
Think collective. Pick up litter. Plant a tree. Do stuff for others. The money, job, marriage myth: are you happy yet? Great post. I may be wrong but I seem to remember reading a few years ago that someone got into trouble in Bhutan for NOT wearing traditional dress. Enforced by law, what might appear charming on a superficial level takes on a different meaning when it becomes compulsory rather than personal choice.
Bangladesh, I recall, has a high happiness quotient, despite its obvious poverty and environmental problems.
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My own experience of Bengalis on either side of the border is that they have a very positive and upbeat outlook on life. Perhaps the world would be a happier place if everyone was educated in Finland before being sent to the Mediterranean to live out their adult lives before spending their final days in Japan — or perhaps Bhutan. Like Liked by 1 person.
When I was there, I was sure there were some people wearing non-traditional dress but it was certainly a minority. The vast majority do wear traditional dress and very natty it looks too but it does of course call into question enforced conformity and choice. I do have issues with the Bhutanese approach, as well as respect and admiration. I think teenagers are pushing at the limits for dress, as they are supposed to! I too much enjoyed Bengali culture, identity and conviviality when I was in Kolkata and I think that all contributes to happiness.
I entirely agree with your recipe for world happiness although I would suggest a place for the phase of youth where you can party and go wild for a bit before you assume a more Mediterranean relaxed lifestyle! I spent a few consecutive summers boarding a school bus to sports camp where my mornings were filled with badminton, volleyball and mini-Olympic events.
I even spent a few years taking tennis and swimming lessons. But looking back, most of those jockey events took place in my younger years. As I aged, I became less and less comfortable with my athletic skills and chose instead to focus on my artistic abilities. A discomfort in my body and a distrust that it could continue to be active athletically?
Likely, and sadly, both.
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So the tennis and swimming disappeared as did the camp and the track and field success. Bye bye gym class by the way.