How Do You Measure Gross National Happiness?


My son and I recently traveled to Thailand and Bhutan, a small land-locked country ringed by the Himalayan Mountains with China to the north and India to the south. It was a wonderful mother-son adventure on many levels, including an eight-mile (and 1,400 stairs!) hike to Tiger’s Nest, a Buddhist monastery carved into a sheer cliff side.

One the most intriguing things we learned about Bhutan’s unique culture was the concept of “Gross National Happiness, a term coined by Bhutan’s fourth king when he was newly crowned at age seventeen. As he described it, his hope for his reign was that he would take his country into the modern world without losing its Buddhist values. As with most noble philosophies, this one was easier said than done.

Yet the young king and his successors went on to not only define but measure happiness based on four key pillars including promotion of sustainable development; preservation of cultural values; protection of the natural environment; and establishment of good governance

While we in the US often seem more focused on gross domestic product than gross national happiness, we can still nurture our own sense of satisfaction in life. Try this simple self-test to see what makes you happy.

  • Randomly pick three times of day over the course of a week that will serve as the times to check on your emotional experience. Make sure the 21 times are varied and reflect different settings and activities. Write those times in a journal.
  • Next, decide on a method of check-in. Try setting the alarm on your cellphone or pager, writing the times on a calendar, or asking someone to call you at the designated times.
  • At each check-in, document the time, where you are, what you’re doing and with whom you’re doing it. Ask yourself the following questions and note the responses in your journal: How am I feeling? Am I living up to my own and others’ expectations? Is there something else I’d rather be doing?
  • Rate yourself 1-10 on how happy you feel, with 1 being the least and 10 being the most.

At the end of the week, read the journal entries. Look for the connections or lack thereof between what you’re experiencing and what you’re feeling. Can you find the link between feeling happy and what you’re doing? Conversely, do you think specific people, places or projects are contributing to unhappy feelings?

While we may not have an entire governmental agency dedicated to measuring happiness like the Bhutanese do, we can still be responsible for making our own happiness!

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