Gross National Happiness

King Jigme Singye Wangchuck

I was out drinking one night (okay so maybe it was during the day), and found myself in a conversation with the bartender about music. He told me that he played in a band called Gross National Happiness. When I inquired as to the name’s origin, he told me an interesting story. In 1972, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck of Bhutan was asked about his country’s gross national product, to which he replied, “we don’t have a gross national product; we have a gross national happiness.”  His point was that Bhutan’s economic policies were developed to serve the country’s unique needs in accordance to its Buddhist ideals. The people’s overall “happiness” was the king’s primary concern.

The statement, originally uttered as an offhand remark, became the blanket term for the king’s policies. He was committed to the notion that Bhutan’s economic growth should be in direct proportion to its spiritual growth. The king developed a five-year process in which all aspects of policy were subject to a Gross National Happiness (GNH) review. Though happiness is difficult to quantify, the aims of GNH were physical, mental and spiritual health; time-balance; acceptable living standards; good governance; cultural vitality; and conservation of ecological resources. I must say, it sounds pretty good.

To examine this concept on a micro-level–and to thus explore a perspective contradictory to my previous post—I ask whether money can, in fact buy happiness? A popular study, found that your income can, in fact, contribute to your overall happiness (defined as your “changeable, day-to-day mood”). However, after you have attained a salary of $75,000-per-year, money appears to have no further impact on your daily happiness. Overall satisfaction with the way your life is going might increase, but your mood will remain relatively the same. Essentially, past 75K, the timeless proverb “more money, more problems” seems to take sway—if not more problems, at least different problems will come to light. I think it’s safe to say that stresses along the lines of: “I’m going to be a bit strapped this month after my mortgage payment”, “Harvard raised my son’s tuition” or “there is a three-month waiting list to get the new Bentley” pale in comparison to the stress of meeting basic needs—needs that appear to be alleviated by a 75K-per-year salary.

So if 75K is the magic number, where does this leave “creative types”? I don’t think that it’s much of a secret that there’s no surplus of creative jobs that pay 75K or more. Those that do exists are likely going to be some corporate, formulaic and diluted version of what you “wanted to be when you grew up”.

The little girl that wanted to be a writer, for example, might find herself writing copy for camping tent instruction manuals, SEO-friendly sales letters or bills for a lobbying firm. She might save some time on the nights or weekends to work on her book, but if she wants to get ahead and put in those “Don Draper hours“, she likely won’t have the energy to do much at night save watch the latest episode of Mad Men.

It seems as though there is a constant war being waged in the American psyche between our desire for freedom and our seduction by luxury. We want I-Phones, laptops, nice cars, pretty houses, expensive educations and/or stylish clothes. However, rarely do I hear someone say, “my job is a drag but I’m really happy to do it because it lets me have all the creature comforts I could desire.” Usually I hear people lament their jobs, qualify them as “temporary” and give speeches about things they’d rather be doing with their lives.

My last blog post discussed the sacrifices that are often involved in attaining success. On the flip-side, if you want to forgo that route, and chase your gross personal happiness, there will be sacrifices as well. I have an uncle who lives in northern California. He’s a writer and has lived in log cabins, retired boxcars and Lord knows where else? Luxuries like nice cars or health insurance have not often been part of the equation. He and his wife made a choice to sacrifice security for freedom. Though the bohemian lifestyle isn’t for everyone, time can be bought through this sacrifice. I have a friend who enjoys living in third-world countries because he can enjoy a greater quality of life for less money. In Thailand, for example, I assure you that the yearly “magic number” is far less than 75,000 U.S. dollars (it might be one-fifth as much).

Politicians, especially the GOP, seem hung-up on the idea of economic growth—a bigger economy is posited as being synonymous with a better economy. Things like creative fulfillment and overall happiness do not seem to be taken into consideration. Perhaps there are ways to lower that magic number from 75K. A single-payer health care system would be a good start. Another idea I have is that there are a lot of 40-hour-a-week office jobs that don’t need to be done in an office and/or don’t actually require 40 hours-per-week. There are a lot of bored people in offices sitting on facebook, playing Farmville, and trying to run out the clock. Maybe people could work more diligently for less hours, receive the same pay and produce the same results, all the while having more “free” time. There are some people who are extremely career-driven and want to work 60+ hours, rise to the top and buy a Bentley. There are other people who simply find joy in the act of working. This should always be encouraged! However, there are other people who would be happy to find a way to meet their basic needs while still having the time for creative growth. Like most people, my own work ethic falls somewhere between the two. Admittedly, I’ve yet to find anything resembling my dream-job.

Work From Home!

As I continue to find my balance between the respective pursuits of freedom and security, I will do my best to remember that both ideals are mere ingredients in the greater cocktail that is happiness.


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About 2ndgreatestgeneration

I am a writer and musician from L.A. I enjoy fine cocktails, good food, and good cabernet. I like books--my favorite is Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco. I love 60s British invasion and 70s Glam Rock. David Bowie, T. Rex, The Kinks, and The Velvet Underground rock my world.
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One Response to Gross National Happiness

  1. I just found your blog because I was ‘pinning’ that awesome (!) photo of the guy in the hot tub to my pinterest board. It really struck a chord with me, as I am currently in the process of creating a blog featuring interviews with self-employed Americans! Hope you’ll come by and check it out- Now I’m going to delve further into your blog! Thanks, Rosa

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