In Pursuit of Happiness

In Pursuit of Happiness

Instead of the GDP, measuring Gross National Happiness might be a more inclusive method to identify fulfilment and progress

What is happiness? Leaving aside philosophical debates, most previous studies have usually pinned degrees of happiness on people’s understanding of their own well-being based on retrospective data. A rather famous study conducted in 2010 by Princeton University researchers Angus Deaton and Daniel Kahneman, found that people tend to feel happier as their income levels increase, but only up to a point. After this point, happiness levels usually tend to level off.

Relentless pursuit of economic growth at any cost has led the world to the verge of a catastrophe. We see the perils of it every day in climate disasters around the globe – from wildfires in Australia, US, Canada to flash floods in Uttaranchal in India, crop losses in Africa, falling water tables in different countries, and zoonotic viruses increasing in their kill ratio every year, as humans edge out other species from their habitats. It is dystopic in its devastation. The world is at an inflexion point. As COVID-19 seared through the world, we had to put the civilization on a pause mode. Now we need to step back and think how to work towards healing the damages.

Wanted: A new vision

Dreamers and visionaries have long visualized a planet where every species lived in harmony and happiness. However, the power-thirsty world had always labelled that dream as a Utopia that can never be achieved. Development cannot happen without economic flourish – they said. And the only way they measured a nation’s development and progress was through fiscal indicators.

But perhaps that is not entirely true. There seems to be emerging a strong contrary opinion that we might be using the wrong scales to measure progress and achievement. And one of our tiny neighbour states is giving traditional economic indicators a hard run for its money. Indeed, the Happiness Index devised by the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan defies almost all our yardstick of success and progress. The country itself goes against a lot of ideas we commonly think necessary for a nation’s progress. It is ruled by a king and not a democracy, it does not have industries, its natural resources are extremely limited, and yet it is the world’s happiest country! And that is enshrined within its national purpose. This is the closest to Utopia.

The nation of happy people

Although the term “Gross National Happiness (GNH)” was first coined by the 4th King of Bhutan the concept has a much longer resonance in the Kingdom. The 1729 legal code, which dates from the unification of Bhutan, declared that “if the Government cannot create happiness (dekid) for its people, there is no purpose for the Government to exist.”

In 1972, the 4th King declared GNH to be more important than GNP (Gross National Product), and the country steered its national policy and development plans towards GNH. The Constitution of Bhutan directs the State “to promote those conditions that will enable the pursuit of happiness.” The GNH Index provides an overview of performance across 9 domains; psychological wellbeing, time use, community vitality, cultural diversity, ecological resilience, living standard, health, education, good governance.

GNH of Bhutan must begin with an understanding that it is distinct from the western literature on ‘happiness’ in two ways. First it is multidimensional – not focused only on subjective well-being to the exclusion of other dimensions – and second, it internalizes other regarding motivations.

GNH is not a fleeting, pleasurable ‘feel good’ moods so often associated with that term. It is the truth that abiding happiness cannot exist while others suffer, and comes only from serving others, living in harmony with nature, realizing our innate wisdom and the true and brilliant nature of our own minds.

It includes harmony with nature (again absent from some Western notions of happiness) and concern for others. The 10th plan of Bhutan specified GNH by focusing on four pillars to translate the multi-dimensional concept of GNH into core objectives. Thesewere:1.Sustainable and equitable socioeconomic development; 2. Environmental conservation; 3. The preservation and promotion of culture; and 4. Good governance.

Now is the time to borrow this concept of happiness and embed into the purpose of every human activity from economic to social and even individual. This will mean a dramatic break from what the famous economist Milton Friedman said in a now-famous 1970 Times magazine article, that businesses’ sole purpose is to generate profit for shareholders. Moreover, he maintained, companies that did adopt “responsible” attitudes would be faced with more binding constraints than companies that did not, rendering them less competitive.

Beyond greed and lust

For far too long the world has worshipped profits before the larger purpose of why organizations exist. It is time to reverse it. The new corporate purpose should be the reason for a corporation’s existence and its starting point. Profit should then be a product of a corporation’s purpose, but not the purpose of the corporation. The ability to deliver on this purpose would be enabled by a renewed commitment to develop trust between corporations and the parties involved or impacted, and an embedded culture of ethics and values.

“I believe that the pandemic has presented an existential crisis – such a stark reminder of our fragility – that it has driven us to confront the global threat of climate change more forcefully and to consider how, like the pandemic, it will alter our lives. It has reminded us how the biggest crises, whether medical or environmental, demand a global and ambitious response,” wrote Larry Fink, the CEO of Blackrock in a letter to stakeholders.

The fact that every human long for a utopian state of affairs proves that human nature has an innate longing for the ideal conditions. It’s their true nature. Left on its own, human nature tends towards justice, equilibrium and parity. But the two basic evils of civilization – greed for wealth and lust for power– have obscured that essential tendency. We just need to clean off the toxic mantle accumulated over the ages, and stand back. This is the larger purpose we all must adopt to defeat the demons of inequality. The radiance of the true inner nature will automatically shine through. This is the only weapon to save the world.

© 2023 Praxis. All rights reserved. | Privacy Policy
   Contact Us
Praxis Tech School
PGP in Data Science