Naropa Magazine Spring 2014
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credit: David Jennings

Happiness is the Way

by Lindsay Michko

How can Gross National Happiness in Bhutan contribute to creating an enlightened society?

For most of the world, there is little question about how to measure a nation’s development—gross domestic product (GDP) remains the long-established norm. The Kingdom of Bhutan, however, has something a little different in mind. Witnessing a world characterized by seemingly unlimited economic growth, yet no change, perhaps even slight decreases, in life satisfaction, policymakers in Bhutan have devised a more holistic measure of development—gross national happiness (GNH).

While GDP presents a reflection of a nation’s economic state, it does not measure what a nation’s people actually consider most important, with development aims narrowly focused on continual economic increase. GNH policy, on the other hand, identifies the prime goal of development as increasing the happiness of the people and wellbeing of all life forms. The holistic values of GNH include psychological wellbeing, health, education, time use, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience, and living standards. “We have to realize economic growth is a means to an end, not an end itself,” asserts Dr. Tho, program director of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Centre and Naropa’s 2014 Bayard and John Cobb Peace Lecturer.

Watch an excerpt from his talk above. Watch the entire lecture

Gross national happiness, with its consideration for the wellbeing of the people and all life forms at the forefront, benefits society by addressing, at its root, the structural violence that engenders physical violence. At the core of this structural violence are the issues of our global ecological footprint and resource inequality, which becomes strikingly apparent when comparing maps of wars with maps of key natural resources, such as oil.

One of the key challenges of the work at the GNH Centre is the question of whether this system shift can occur on the grander scale. In his lecture, Dr. Tho stressed the importance of education, asserting, “We need to change the way education is formatting the youth,” adding, “My hope is that Naropa University will be one of our partners in working on involving GNH in education.”

*Dr. Tho framed his discussion around this wisdom, which he received from his teacher, Thich Naht Hanh.

IN 1968, WHILE ON A RETREAT AT PARO TAKTSANG, BHUTAN’S RENOWNED CLIFFSIDE SACRED MONASTERY, NAROPA FOUNDER CHOGYAM TRUNGPA RINPOCHE WROTE THE BEAUTIFUL SADHANA OF MAHAMUDRA. IN THIS SADHANA, OR LITURGY, TRUNGPA RINPOCHE VOICED HIS VISION OF SOCIAL TRANSFORMATION, WHICH REJECTED SPIRITUAL MATERIALISM AND EGOCENTRIC SECTARIANISM IN FAVOR OF CULTIVATING A MORE ENLIGHTENED SOCIETY BASED UPON THE RECOGNITION OF BASIC GOODNESS AND THE MANIFESTATION OF COMPASSIONATE ACTION.
Photo: David Jennings

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