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Gross National Happiness

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Essay title: Gross National Happiness

King Jigme Singye Wangchuck:

"I am more interested in Gross National Happiness than in Gross National Product."

These words, proudly spoken by the ruler of the Kingdom of Bhutan, have become the mantra for a people who are living out a brave new social experiment: "Can a spartan rural society join the high-tech world without surrendering its soul?" [1]

Bhutan is an extraordinary place; seemingly untouched through the course of time. Resting in the heart of the Himalayas, it has remained in self-imposed detachment for centuries, apart from the rest of the world. "Since its doors were cautiously opened in 1974, visitors have been mesmerized: the environment is pristine, the scenery and architecture are awesome, the people are hospitable and charming, and the culture unique in its purity." [2]

"Despite the huge potential of its natural resources, Bhutan emerged as one of Asia's poorest countries, shunning the 'profit at all costs' mentality of the rest of the world. With one foot in the past and one in the future, it strolls confidently towards modernization, on its own terms, fiercely protecting its ancient culture, its natural resources and its deeply Buddhist way of life." [3]

For the most part, the Kingdom of Bhutan has had remarkable success with its transition to becoming a relatively technological society. It is a nation which has also retained it culture and way of life in the process. Some scholars feel that in the United States, we have lost the more positive aspects of our culture, and thus, our "gross national happiness." This loss, apparently, is the cost of being a highly technological and consumption driven society. Americans are, by many measures, the most successful people ever known. Our enormously productive economy affords us luxuries beyond the wildest dreams of previous generations.

However, this prosperity brings evidence of a different story. Our rising standard of living has not always resulted in a higher quality of life. Indeed, in many ways there has been an erosion in our sense of well-being, both for us as individuals and for us as a people. Our wealth has come with unforeseen costs: personal, social and environmental. We must ask ourselves, "Is this really the American dream?"

The traditional American dream of opportunity, progress, and freedom speaks to the hearts of most people. Yet the recent "more is better" definition of the dream has many hidden costs. Our way of life depends on a continuous influx of the very commodities that are most damaging to the environment. This is particularly troubling since nearly every other nation in the world is emulating American consumption patterns. As global population increases and consumption skyrockets, we are rapidly depleting the planet's natural resources, degrading its renewable support systems of water, soil, and air, and producing more waste than the Earth and the atmosphere can absorb. Our hectic work-and-spend way of life also has huge social costs. Every year, millions of families declare personal bankruptcy, and credit card debt reaches new heights.

Millions of Americans report feeling exhausted, pressured, and hungry for more balanced lives. They are seeking greater purpose and more free time to spend with family and friends. Evidence tends to say that this is not the life that most of us would dream about. The following statements are a list of facts that support this claim:

•Despite the astounding economic growth between 1958 and 1980, Americans reported feeling significantly less well-off in 1980 than they had 22 years before. [4]

•Americans reporting that they were "very happy" were no more numerous in 1991 than in 1957.[5]

•Percentage of 18 to 29 year-olds who think they have a very good chance of achieving "the good life":

1978: 41%

1993: 21 % [6]

•Rise in per capita consumption in the U.S. in the last 20 years: 45% [7]

•Decrease in quality of life in the U.S. since 1970, as measured by the index of Social Health: 51% [8]

•Percentage of Americans who feel the American Dream is very much alive:

1986: 32%

1990: 23% [9]

While the preceding statistics show only American opinion, it is reasonable to assume that many people in other industrialized, consumption driven countries might feel the same way. In fact, America is often the example for other developing

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