Open Collections

Digital Himalaya Journals

Finding Happiness in Wisdom and Compassion - The Real Challenge for an Alternative Development Strategy McDonald, Ross, 1961- 2003-12

Item Metadata


JSON: dhimjournal-1.0365152.json
JSON-LD: dhimjournal-1.0365152-ld.json
RDF/XML (Pretty): dhimjournal-1.0365152-rdf.xml
RDF/JSON: dhimjournal-1.0365152-rdf.json
Turtle: dhimjournal-1.0365152-turtle.txt
N-Triples: dhimjournal-1.0365152-rdf-ntriples.txt
Original Record: dhimjournal-1.0365152-source.json
Full Text

Full Text

Dr. Ross McDonald*
The underlying development philosophy of globalisation seeks
to maximise happiness through the cultivation of a narrow
materialist self-interest and competitiveness, both at the level
of the individual and at the level of the nation-state. Despite
voluminous evidence that this growth-fixated model of
material economy polarises global well-being and seriously
undermines environmental security, most, in the developed
world at least, seem perfectly content to continue achieving
happiness in irresponsible ways. This paper explores the
deeper dynamics of an economic ideology of which GNP is
only the most visible aspect and asks whether Bhutan's
search for an alternative approach really entails the search
for a more responsible form of happiness - one that
inherently involves a more compassionate mode of being in
the world. Using the Four Pillars of Gross National Happiness
as a framework, it argues that the cultivation of a deeper
happiness lies in ensuring that the inter-dependent realms of
culture, good governance, economy and the environment
remain in sustainable balance. If Buddhist understandings
are accurate, then on-going happiness can only be truly
found through this critical balancing. Thus, if a means for
measuring the vitality of these four components can be
developed then Bhutan can build a strong foundation for
genuinely advancing beyond the irresponsible and
unsustainable means employed by others in their search for a
more fleeting form of satisfaction. But it is argued, if the
maximisation of happiness at any cost is allowed to become
* Coordinator, Business, Society and Culture Programme at the
University of Auckland, New Zealand.
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
the overarching goal then the errors of western development
might be unintentionally replicated and Bhutan's unique
potential to forge a more valuable direction be unfortunately
The Kingdom of Bhutan has long resisted being integrated
into other culture's alien systems of priorities and much of
the widespread appeal of Gross National Happiness as an
alternative indicator of social development comes, I believe,
from an increasing appreciation throughout the world that
current priorities and in particular the growth fetish of the
Western economy, are misplaced and detrimental to our
collective well being. That this is so is apparent when one
broadens ones gaze to consider the impacts of a globalising
economic ideology on the twin issues of social justice and
environmental integrity. It is becoming clear that modern
economic thinking, with its singular focus on maximising
material consumption, is creating lamentable outcomes for
many in the poorer world, for the generations that will follow
us and for our fellow creatures on this planet. The dynamics
of 'aid' and international trade are misallocating resources
and polarising the world into an increasingly concentrated
group of super-rich and a growing mass of ultra-poor. As we
add another three billion people to the global family in the
coming decades, this polarisation seems set to deepen with
increasingly troublesome consequences for the most
vulnerable regions of the planet. And at an equally
fundamental level, the tyrannies of a changing climate and
increasing environmental decline are set to eradicate large
portions of the global ecosystem. A recent report in the
conservative science journal Nature for example, suggests
that in less than fifty years if current ideologies of growth
continue to hold sway, we will cause the extinction of at least
one quarter of all of the animal and plant species that
currently inhabit the earth.
We find ourselves then, at a critically important juncture in
human history, a point at which a profound rethinking of our
 Finding Happiness in Wisdom and Compassion
priorities is required and required urgently. It is against this
larger backdrop that our meetings here this week gain some
of their deeper and larger significance and Bhutan is to be
commended for forging an alternative vision of how we ought
to direct our energies and measure our success in this rapidly
polarising and deteriorating world. I think that all here
sincerely hope that Bhutan's attempts to chart a different
direction for itself will be successful and be of genuine
assistance in facilitating a wiser and more compassionate
appreciation of our place and purpose in the world.
Having said this however, we need to recognise that this is a
profoundly challenging endeavour and one that requires a
considerable clarity of mind. The potential pit-falls are legion
and success will depend upon patience, broad consultation
and deep reflection among many other things. This paper is
written above all in the hope that it might be of some
assistance in the latter domain.
When I first learned of Bhutan's intention to create a measure
of Gross National Happiness I was deeply impressed but I
must confess to a feeling of rising foreboding as I immersed
myself in the western literature on happiness and its
relationship to standard models of economic development.
Happiness has an intuitive appeal as an outcome of ultimate
value, but the more I have read and pondered the
phenomenon the less faith I have found myself having in its
sole legitimacy as a primary, unqualified aim for social policy.
The roots of my concern lie in an increasing appreciation that
happiness can come in many forms and be derived from
many courses of action and states of being - including, as I
believe is the case in the privileged world, from recklessly
irresponsible collective actions that deprive others of essential
resources and cause extensive damage to the prospects of
future generations. Ultimately, I find myself faced with a
worrisome dilemma that can be summarised as follows. If
happiness can be successfully found in the active exploitation
of others and in the despoliation of the natural system we live
within, can it constitute an acceptable measure of success?
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
The answer to this basic question is of the utmost importance
to our current deliberations and the way we answer it will
determine, at least for me, the legitimacy of happiness as a
worthy arbiter of policy formation.
In personally answering this question I must say that I believe
there are other outcomes that are of more importance than a
simple maximisation of personal and national happiness at
any cost. If for example, some find great pleasure in enacting
racist values, or in stealing, the happiness that accrues does
not justify the actions. Similarly, if destroying things of
natural beauty, or senseless killing brings happiness, then
again I do not believe that even a very high level of resultant
happiness can justify such actions. It is in such instances
that the potential conflict between responsibility and
happiness becomes apparent. Many in the modern world
achieve happiness in ways of being and consuming in the
world that are profoundly unwise and I believe in such
instances that this irresponsibility has to be challenged
regardless of whether it brings them happiness or not. The
western economy, seemingly fixated on achieving continual
growth at any cost, is deeply non-compassionate, but as we
shall see, it seems by standard measures at least, to be
correlated with the broad generation of happiness. If we
accept happiness in this form as the ultimately important
outcome, such irresponsibility is forgiven, or indeed blessed,
as a merely subsidiary means of achieving the all-important
goal of happiness. In the process, all ethical considerations of
social justice, ecological responsibility and personal duty are
sacrificed in the name of an inconsiderate hedonism.
I wonder then if at heart, Bhutan's aim is not to directly
cultivate a more responsible form of happiness, one that is
grounded in deeper Buddhist values of enacted wisdom and
compassion. If this is indeed the case, as I believe it is, then
we have a much clearer agenda to build upon and a clearer
distinction as to how we might conceive of a genuine advance
from the unwise and heartless search for the more superficial
happiness that can be gained by merely maximising material
 Finding Happiness in Wisdom and Compassion
consumption. Aiming to maximise a deeper form of happiness
based on responsible being in the world seems to me to be an
eminently worthy aim. Aiming to maximise a more superficial
happiness based on irresponsible being in the world on the
other hand, does not.
And it is exactly this distinction between responsible and
irresponsible means of finding happiness that western
economic culture seems to have so much difficulty
discerning. In the ideology of western economy, this force
which seems to inexorably dissolve alternative cultures into
its sphere, happiness and economic growth have become
equivalent terms, and GNP as a measure has gained its preeminence from this illogical equivalence. With this in mind,
we should remain aware at all times that the measurement of
Gross National Product is for all intents and purposes, the
westernised measure of Gross National Happiness. So, in the
dominant ideology of globalisation, it is not as many seem to
assume, that happiness is deemed to be irrelevant to
economic expansion, but rather that happiness is deemed to
be equivalent to economic expansion. For the architects of
modern free-market ideology any expansion in economic
activity is an expansion in human happiness. But is this
really the case? To answer this it is instructive to briefly
consider the voluminous evidence that has been accumulated
to date on the relationship between economic growth and self-
reported happiness. It is interesting to note that this evidence
has not been collected by economists themselves who seem
little motivated to test the foundations of their assumptions.
Rather, the primary evidence we have comes from the
endeavours of a legion of academic psychologists who have
been paying increasing attention to the relationship between
the two phenomena.
Anyone who has forayed into the voluminous literature that
has accumulated around the connections between economic
development and self-reported happiness will be aware that
there are numerous schools of thought as to the relationship
between   these   two    factors.    However,    the    preponderant
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
opinion seems to be that the correlation is not nearly as
simple nor compelling as some would have us believe. In
order to make sense of the varying claims and counter-claims
it is useful to focus on four essential relationships that ought
to be strongly upheld if indeed economic growth is the major
determinant of felt happiness. These are as follows.
1. At any given time looking across nations, the
populations of rich countries should be clearly happier
than the populations of poor countries.
2. Within any given country and across time, increases
in economic growth should produce clear increases in
3. Within any given country at any given time, rich
people should be clearly happier than poor people.
4. Within any given country and across time, increases
in personal wealth should clearly produce increases in
By considering the evidence relating to each of these
relationships we should be able to assess the degree to which
economic growth does translate into increasing happiness.
Let us consider each in turn.
To begin with cross-national comparisons, there is some
evidence that increasing national wealth is somewhat
associated with increasing happiness. In general, wealthier
nations seem to be slightly happier than poor nations but this
relationship is far from perfect and there are many exceptions
that undermine the simple conclusion that economic growth
automatically confers greater national happiness. In the most
recent global study for example, the relatively poor nation of
Nigeria comes out as the happiest nation, reporting far higher
levels of general happiness than a great many significantly
richer nations. Other anomalies point to a similar complexity
- Ireland for instance seems to have a happier population
than Germany despite not being as wealthy, and the
Philippines report higher levels of happiness than both Japan
and Taiwan (e.g. Hamilton,  2003, Inglehart,   1990). Further
 Finding Happiness in Wisdom and Compassion
caution is called for when one appreciates that the weak
positive relationship that has been established breaks down
after a certain level of development, with economic capacity
beyond that point bringing no effective increase in national
happiness (e.g. Myers, 2000, Schyns, 2000). This has led
many to conclude that growing GNP is of value as a facilitator
of basic need satisfaction but that once these basic
requirements have been met, other non-monetary
satisfactions such as meaningful work, a positive sense of
purpose and close social relationships become much more
important means to achieving fulfilment (e.g. Baumeister and
Leary, 1995, Emmons, 1986, Myers, 2000, Perkins, 1991).
Weakening further the legitimacy of any simplistic conclusion
that more money means more happiness is the mounting
body of opinion that argues that wealthy nations are often
also characterised by higher levels of political freedom,
personal autonomy, public health, gender equality and
accessible educational opportunities among other phenomena
- each of which may in part explain the slightly higher levels
of reported life satisfaction found across a number of studies
(e.g. Eckersley, 2000, Diener and Diener, 1995. Veenhoven,
Finally, there are also a number of potent criticisms of the
methodologies used to create such data including important
doubts as to the validity of the various means of measuring
happiness (which often involve narrow measures of personal
happiness alone and exclude satisfaction with the state of
society for instance) and serious questions over the
representativeness of the samples used to construct the data
sets (which often over-emphasise convenient samples of
college students for example) (e.g. Diener and Lucas, 2000,
also Veenhoven, 1996). But in conclusion, it does seem that
there is a weak but far from perfect relationship between
economic growth and national happiness up to a moderate
level - but that this probably involves a whole nexus of factors
of which national income is only one.
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
Turning to the evidence relating changes in economic wealth
within the nation state over time to reported happiness, the
data is again far from clear. However, with regard to the
wealthier and more documented nations, it is quite apparent
that over time, despite enormous growth in material economy,
happiness does not seem to increase significantly (e.g. Myers,
2000, Oswald, 1997). This may be related to the previous
observation that beyond a certain point, economic growth
yields diminishing returns for felt well being. In the United
States for example, where rigorous surveys have been
conducted since the mid 1940s, real incomes have increased
over 400% yet there has been no increase in measurable
happiness. In fact if anything, there has been a slight drop in
the proportion of people reporting themselves to be happy
with life (Hamilton, 2003). Similarly in Japan, between the
1950s and the 1990s real GNP per person rose six fold, yet
reported satisfaction with life has not changed at all. So
again, considerable doubts are raised as to the veracity of any
simple claim that growing economy is equivalent to growing
national happiness.
Turning to the third expected relationship, which should
show that within any nation state, richer people are happier
than poor people, again there is no compelling evidence to
show that a simple relationship obtains. In fact, the
preponderance of data seems to suggest that a similar
relationship exists to that between rich and poor nations.
That is, gains in material riches help happiness but only to a
very basic level after which no significant contribution is to be
found. Thus, several studies show a difference between the
very poor in society and the rest, but any clear relationships
break down after this point as the moderately poor and the
reasonably well off appear to be just as happy as the rich and
the very rich. For instance, in studies of the richest people in
America, evidence shows them to be only marginally happier
than the average American - and interestingly none of the
very wealthy when asked about the groundings of their
happiness mention money as a major source of happiness
(e.g.   Argyle,    1999,   Diener,   Horwitz   and   Emmons,    1985,
 Finding Happiness in Wisdom and Compassion
Inglehart, 1990, Lykken, 1999). The relationship between
personal income and happiness only seems to be of major
significance in poor countries with high levels of polarisation,
such as Bangladesh and India where a whole host of other
contributing factors, such as severe privation and caste are
likely to contribute significantly to the reported correlations
(e.g. Ahuvia, 2001, Argyle, 1999).
Finally, in the context of changes in material well being as
experienced by individuals over time, it is very difficult to find
evidence to support the basic assumption that more money
brings greater happiness. Rather over time it seems that
increases in personal income beyond the level of basic need
satisfaction do not produce significant increases in felt well
being (e.g. Duncan, 1975, Myers, 2000). And further, even
rapid changes in material circumstances seem capable only of
producing rapid and very short-lived 'spikes' in felt happiness
before the person returns to a basic 'set-point' of pre-existing
well being (e.g. Cummings, 2000. Silver, 1982, Stone and
Neale, 1984, Suh, Diener and Fujita, 1996).
In sum then, it appears that the economic assumption that
equates increasing material consumption with increasing
happiness is deeply flawed even in its own limited terms.
Beyond a certain level, increased economic expansion does
not seem to translate into increased happiness for either
individuals or nation states. What linkages do appear to gain
most empirical support involve the connections between
economic growth and poverty. Thus, below a certain level of
development, poverty eradication does make a difference. In
general though, it can be reasonably concluded that Gross
National Product is not the measure of Gross National
Happiness it purports to be and accordingly a more
applicable and discerning approach to the problem of
maximising human happiness needs to be developed.
However, there is a deeper and less visible aspect of the data
which has been summarised above - one that reveals a more
serious flaw in the economic logic of western economics and
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
one that returns us to the concerns outlined at the beginning
of this paper. It is as follows - although there is little
compelling evidence to show that growth in economy alone
produces growth in felt happiness, the fact remains that in
the highly developed world, most people report being
genuinely satisfied with their consumptive lives and lifestyles
(e.g. Inglehart, 1990, Myers, 1993, Myers and Diener, 1996).
Thus, national happiness levels remain high despite the
mounting evidence that demonstrates the destructive nature
of our economic priorities. In a very important sense then, the
literature on happiness and its connection to the expansion of
economic consumption can be read as being indicative of a
willing cultural negligence within which most appear to
remain happy despite the realisation that in a world of strictly
limited resources, our material aspirations are deeply
inappropriate in an ethical sense. Put simply, it seems that
we find our happiness in diminishing the present and future
well being of others in the global family.
And it is here that we can begin to discern what I believe to be
the central issues underlying our current deliberations. The
dominant order's happiness with negligence appears to me at
least, to emanate from a basic selfishness and narrow-
mindedness that has been cultivated slowly but surely
throughout the history of western economic development.
Viewed in this way, it is not happiness or even the equation of
happiness with GNP that is the most fundamental problem,
but the mode of self-indulgent being in the world that modern
economic philosophy cultivates and condones. In a deeply
polarised world of declining ecological health this stunted
form of human non-development needs to be urgently
redressed even if it does correlate with high levels of reported
happiness. If we are to survive our future and achieve
sustainability we need to find an equivalent happiness in
much more mature conduct.
It is here then, in this context, that Buddhism offers a
genuine alternative and where Bhutan's search for a different
vision for development gains its greatest traction. But before
 Finding Happiness in Wisdom and Compassion
considering the positive potential of what might be developed
here, it might be useful to briefly survey a few of the most
important foundations that serve to support the irresponsible
happiness that seems to be the aim of much of the present
order. Central to all of this is the maintenance of illusion - an
illusion that claims selfishness to be an acceptable or even
admirable route to true happiness. This moral myopia lies at
the heart of the whole cultural worldview that supports GNP
as a singularly appropriate measure of collective advance.
For most of the world's cultures, untrammelled selfishness
and competitiveness are appropriately viewed as unworthy
and maladaptive attitudes - orientations harbouring the
constant potential to endanger the larger collective interest.
Accordingly most cultural systems go to great lengths to de-
legitimise and dis-empower them. But in western culture,
these essential vices have been transformed into veritable
virtues and this is particularly true within the realms of
economic thought where they are praised as being of unique
value in forging our collective advance towards happiness.
In order to fully appreciate the nature of this counter-intuitive
belief system we must understand at least in brief form, its
aetiology. Of course, there have been numerous strands that
have historically come together to elevate selfishness and
competitiveness beyond the realms of condemnation, but
central in the process have been the inordinately influential
conceptions of Adam Smith, the first and foremost articulator
of free-market theory. Smith's influence has been
incomparable and it was he who first formed an effective
moral justification for competitive selfishness as an essential
means to our collective advance. Arguing in his foundational
text, known popularly as 'The Wealth of Nations', Smith noted
that, ideals aside, much of humanity is motivated to action by
baser instincts than generous altruism. As such he argued, if
nations wish to obtain the fullest fruits of coordinated action,
selfishness should be permitted a far greater freedom than it
had previously been granted under the religious systems of
authority that preceded the  arrival  of the secular western
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
Enlightenment. Contrary to the general conception then,
Smith reframed selfishness as an enormously pro-social
force, one capable of creating great good despite its amoral or
immoral intentions. Thus, in his seminal outlining of free-
market economics he showed how it is through selfishness
and not altruism that the greatest productive energy is
unleashed. It is the prospect of personal gain that drives most
in society to undertake the exertions necessary to produce,
market and sell the material goods and services that bring
benefit to a society. It is then above all, selfishness that
creates the collective wealth of nations.
But Smith understood the many tyrannies and injustices that
an unbridled selfishness might bring in its wake and in his
broad theorising the harmfulness of freeing up this mode was
to be balanced by a countervailing force, that of competition.
Again writing in the Wealth of Nations, he argued that
competition in the marketplace would act to prevent
exploitation and excessive harm as each player is forced to
increasingly conform to the greater good through producing
the most desired goods and services at an ever-increasing
quality and an ever-decreasing price. Thus, competition
would act as an 'Invisible Hand' to guide intentional
selfishness towards an unintended general benefit. Those that
acted with excessive greed would be forced to curtail their
exploitativeness or be excluded from the marketplace. Hence,
selfishness and competition working in concert would
unfailingly ensure that the greatest public happiness would
be obtained, at least in the material economic realm.
It is these twin notions that have formed the basic moral
justification of a free-market economy ever since, one in
which the least moral of motivations become blessed as a
forgivable means to the valued ends of maximising national
wealth and happiness. However, it needs to be pointed out
that this inheritance was originally not as simplistic as it has
now become in the hands of more modern economic purists.
Smith's conceptions had an enormous influence partly due to
their own partial truth but largely because Smith was one of
 Finding Happiness in Wisdom and Compassion
the pre-eminent moral philosophers of his age - a reputation
gained through his previous writings on the Moral
Sentiments. For Smith, the model of the free market within
which selfishness and competition could be allowed greater
reign, was premised upon his overarching belief in the power
of sympathy and 'human heartedness'. Writing in the Theory
of Moral Sentiments the first of his major works, he revealed
a firm belief in humanity's capacity for sympathy, an emotion
that prevents us tolerating excessive heartlessness in our
conduct towards others. Thus, he argued, society is
dominated by an over-arching human heartedness and it is
this above all that will prevent selfishness from creating a
morally irresponsible economy. If modes of economic action
begin to create excessive exploitation or deprivation, then a
prevailing sympathy will come to the fore and insist upon
restraint and reparation. Needless to say, it did not take long
for the rising business class to marginalise these essential
assumptions and isolate the selfishness and competitiveness
defended in his later work from their wiser and more
compassionate roots.
With an emerging ideology that came to see selfishness as
acceptable and competition as essential the modern
irresponsible economy was well on its way to empowerment.
An active compassion was unnecessary, as the Invisible Hand
of competition would unerringly correct all injustices. And it
must be noted, the potential for large-scale environmental
destruction was literally unimaginable to the founders of our
modern ideology living as they did in a historical epoch
dominated by a sense of limitless resources and a distinctly
underdeveloped capacity for their exploitation. In the
selectively conceived world of Smith's cultural converts then,
selfishness and competitiveness become sufficient means for
forging our collective progress. There is no need for an
enacted compassion or environmental wisdom, as an active
irresponsibility will be magically transformed into responsible
outcomes for all.
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
This essential faith lies at the heart of modern economic
theory and it has been subsequently compounded by two
equally simplistic and unwise rationalisations - the simple
equation of economic activity with the satisfaction of all
important human needs, and an unfortunate econometric
cynicism that declares that humanity is in fact incapable of
genuinely considerate or generous action. In this latter
formulation the theory of human nature reaches an
unfortunate dead-end in a formulation that sees being in the
world as necessarily involving the rational search for
maximum personal gain. The centrality of this misconception
can be witnessed by consulting any introductory economic
textbook where persons are formally judged to be "rational
self-maximisers." In this stunted conception, western
economic thinking reaches its nadir as the potentials for
genuine individual development, for compassion, self-sacrifice
and intentional service are theoretically banished from the
realms of possibility. With the acceptance of this anti-ideal
the dominant force of globalisation moves beyond a simple
moral defence of competitive selfishness, to see it as an
inevitable and unavoidable condition.
In revealing these underlying assumptions, we can see clearly
that the problem with GNP is not one of measurement alone,
but one that involves a much deeper nexus of maladaptive
beliefs. Put simply, the forces of globalisation that are
knocking on the doors of Bhutan have at their heart, a series
of inter-connected misconceptions. Most importantly these
involve assuming that selfishness and competitiveness are
morally responsible, that environmental wisdom is
unnecessary, that compassion is impossible and that
economic outcomes are the only ones that count towards
defining collective progress. It is this combination of deep
beliefs and assumptions that empowers the irresponsible
happiness of the current global order. Needless to say, each of
these foundational beliefs runs counter to the traditional
Buddhist conception of our proper place and potential in the
 Finding Happiness in Wisdom and Compassion
I believe then, that we need to be quite explicit in
understanding what it is that needs to be resisted if a more
responsible socio-economic system is to be developed by any
society including Bhutan. If a more responsible alternative is
truly desired then each of the above dead-ends must be
studiously guarded against. In other words, achieving a
responsible Gross National Happiness must necessarily entail
clearly maintaining that self-restraint and cooperativeness
are morally responsible, that environmental wisdom is
necessary, that compassion is possible and that economic
outcomes are not the exclusive measures that count in
defining our collective progress.
That the above elements are already present in Bhutanese
developmental thinking is apparent in the various writings
that have been produced to date and particularly in the
framework that has been articulated under the heading of the
Four Pillars of Gross National Happiness. In this useful
conceptualisation, economic vitality becomes only one of
several essential elements that together facilitate a genuine
and responsible progress. Economic outcomes are tempered
by active concerns for good governance, cultural vitality and
environmental responsibility. A wise integration of these
interconnected concerns represents a clear advance towards a
more just and sustainable philosophy. And at the heart of
Buddhist teaching is the central understanding that human
nature reaches its greatest potential and happiness in the
flowering of compassion, self-restraint and cooperation.
Accordingly, the foundational principles of a living Buddhism
revolve around the practicalities of achieving the wisdom and
compassion of a genuinely mature human development. In a
very real sense then Bhutanese Buddhism already has all of
the elements in place to maintain a much more responsible
social growth that in much of the world dominated as it is by
the myopic ideology of a self-sufficient material
competitiveness. The question is how can these elements be
maximally empowered to bring to fruition comfortable and
happy social existence? The answer I believe lies in finding
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
what might be termed a middle way between these often-
conflicting priorities.
Now there is clearly much less of a need to explain the
fundaments of Buddhist social thinking to this audience than
there has been to explore the depths of western economic
ideology but the essential understanding that the deepest
happiness can be attained only through the cultivation of a
relatively selfless and non-materialist orientation deserves a
clear reiteration. Unlike the secular economic conceptions of
the west, the highest and deepest forms of happiness are to
be found not in endless material accumulation but through
moderation and a detachment from excess craving. Ultimate
happiness we are told comes from a spirit of service and
compassion for others and not from exploitation and
carelessness towards others. And the greatest happiness
entails a communion with the natural world and not a
separation from it. To fail to comprehend this is, in Buddhist
thinking, to live in an illusory world of false and ever-
precarious happiness. It is only when this seemingly real but
deeply false sense of happiness is overcome and a more
responsible maturity is realised that the folly of our initial
confusion is revealed. Buddhism at heart, is all about finding
ways to grow beyond the illusion that a narrow, uncaring,
materially grasping competitiveness can hope to bring a
genuine or lasting happiness. It is then, all about challenging
the unfortunately confused ideologies of material fixation at
all levels not just at the most obvious level of GNP as an
inappropriate indicator of our true well being.
In the classical formulations of the Four Noble Truths and of
the Eightfold Path, Buddhism outlines in precise detail the
means by which a compassionate, wise and ultimately happy
condition might be achieved on the individual level and it is
important to note that the emphasis here is upon the 'right'
means to 'right' happiness. It is then a mode of being in the
world that does not perceive of any practical separation of
desirable ends from desirable means and in this it is clearly
distinguishable   from   the   dominant   western   approach   to
 Finding Happiness in Wisdom and Compassion
achieving economically-derived happiness. As we have seen
already, in the dominant western approach to economic
development, the maximally responsible social outcome of the
greatest good for the greatest number is, it is argued fully
attainable only through the perfection of a maximally
irresponsible mode of conduct. For Buddhism, as indeed for
most of the worlds cultural systems, this disjunction between
'wrong' means and 'right' ends is absurd. If we desire the
greatest potential good as an outcome, then it is only
attainable through the cultivation of the greatest goodness as
the means to its attainment. In other words to achieve wise
and compassionate outcomes we need to cultivate wise and
compassionate attitudes.
At an individual level all of this has long been understood and
is quite straightforward. How to apply these understandings
to social policy, particularly in light of the challenges and
temptations of an insistent globalisation is a far more
complex matter. But I believe the realisation of such positive
outcomes including Gross National Happiness begins with the
cultural empowerment of the central tenets of traditional
wisdom. In other words, the profound insight that exists in
Buddhist culture must retain its authority to guide social
policy if a realistic balancing of the elements of a healthy
economy, a just society and a sustainable environment is to
be possible. This means that social governance has to be
performed in light of these insights and that good governance
is defined by its allegiance to, and capacity for empowering
the compassionate principles that define and give value to the
If Buddhist culture in Bhutan is in part characterised by an
appreciation of the importance of self-restraint and balance
for example, then good governance is by definition,
governance conducted in a spirit of self-restraint and balance.
Or if a central cultural value involves cultivating respect for
the natural world, then good governance is defined by placing
respect for nature at the heart of policy making. The
maintenance of culturally oriented priorities is only possible if
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
those who have the greatest influence embody and empower
the values their societies hold to be of the greatest importance
and value.
In the instance of Bhutanese development then, as in the
case of indigenous development anywhere, cultural vibrancy
and the good governance that follows from it must be
diligently monitored and constantly revitalised as the primary
goal. If this is not done, as the pattern of global change
worldwide amply illustrates, indigenous cultures and
alternative frameworks collapse as they succumb to the
dissolving anarchy of modern economic individualism and
competitiveness. To vigilantly adapt and implement
indigenous values is the only way to ensure cultural self-
determination in the face of a dissolving globalisation that is
equally determined to force their dissolution. In case after
case, fragile cultural systems are replaced by alien forms of
poor governance singularly oriented towards an unwise
obsession with GNP and the whole nexus of troublesome
assumptions it represents.
As for the other specific elements of Bhutanese development -
the pillars of environmental sensibility, economic
development and I would add, social justice - I believe from all
that I have learned about this country that the wisdom
necessary to effectively achieve balance certainly exists in the
cultural values that sustain society here. This however, will
involve as a primary task, the operationalisation of measures
capable of accurately monitoring developments in each of
these critical areas to ensure that a growing economic
capacity does not, as it has elsewhere, cannibalise the equally
essential realms of social justice and ecological balance. The
specific criteria that will be aimed for within the realms of
economic, social and cultural outcomes can only be
determined by the people of Bhutan themselves and only in
reference to their own distinct cultural priorities.
And so in conclusion I must return to my original concern
regarding      the      ultimate      aim      of      maximising      and
 Finding Happiness in Wisdom and Compassion
operationalising Gross National Happiness per se. I firmly
believe in Bhutan's desire to forge its own path in the modern
world and not to succumb to a mindless adoption of alien
priorities and I believe that a greater happiness is only
attainable through such a strategy. However, I remain
doubtful that an unqualified and perhaps hurried search for a
maximal measurable happiness is the best first step forward.
To operationalise happiness without first operationalising the
foundations upon which it can rest, runs the distinct risk of
minimising the importance of the right means of attaining
that happiness. As is the case with any form of measurement,
it can quickly become a narrowed focus that causes us to lose
sight of the wisest means to its attainment. If the profound
wisdom of Buddhism is correct, then the cultivation of a
genuinely wise and compassionate attitude will produce a
profound happiness as it has always done. Happiness then
has its grounding in a respectful balancing of personal
concern with the interests of others and of material concerns
and the immaterial interests of personal and spiritual
development. I would humbly suggest then that the
Government of Bhutan put it energies at this stage into
articulating the states it wishes to see obtain in each of the
areas from which balanced development springs - society,
culture, good governance, economy and the environment.
In the realm of the environment for example, it might be
appropriate to create a set of measures related to trends in
biodiversity and the well-being of critical indicator species,
the sustainability of forestry, the creation of inorganic wastes,
carbon dioxide emissions, water quality, cropland fertility and
other such critical indicators of ecological health. In the realm
of societal functioning, specific measurable criteria relating to
levels of personal indebtedness, nutrition, the distribution of
land, standards of housing, income polarisation,
opportunities for education, population growth and access to
basic healthcare might be constructive among other
indicators. Similarly specific criteria can be developed to
monitor the health and vitality of culture, good governance
and   the   economy.   If goals   and   limits   can   be   rigorously
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
articulated for each of these various pillars of GNH then
Bhutan can develop first and foremost, the consciously
responsible form of development so badly needed by the
current global order.
Once a desirable form of appropriate development has been
formalised then attention can rightly shift to achieving
happiness within this essential pattern of social advance.
Buddhist culture has long maintained that the truest and
deepest happiness comes from thinking, acting and
interacting in 'right' ways - ways characterised by maturity,
wisdom and compassion, and specifically not by a crass self-
interested materialism. If the population as a whole can
appreciate the essential Tightness of being a responsible part
of the global order then this can provide the ultimate sense of
pride, self-respect and contentment. To facilitate the
blossoming of such a collective happiness in responsibility
however, there will need to be a constant re-affirmation of the
truths of Buddhist teachings on compassion, moderation and
respect. Equally importantly there will need to be a constant
critical invalidation of the insidious ideology that would
excuse un-moderated material greed and seek joy in
destroying the prospects of future generations.
It is clear that Bhutan wishes to avoid the latter option and I
believe the only way of avoiding succumbing to its cynicism is
to set in place specific targets and measures capable of
monitoring any cracks that might appear in the pillars or
foundations upon which a responsible happiness rests.
Following this, the cultivation of pride and happiness in what
has been attained can be sought as the ultimate outcome that
represents both the end and the on-going means by which its
vitality is sustained. But to aim for a national happiness
without first ensuring that practice reflects an essential
wisdom and compassion runs the distinct risk of
undermining the right conduct Buddhism has long seen as
leading to the only true and worthy happiness.
 Finding Happiness in Wisdom and Compassion
1. Ahuvia, A.: 2002, 'Individualism/collectivism and cultures
of happiness: A theoretical conjecture on the relationship
between consumption, culture and subjective well-being
at thee national level', Journal of Happiness Studies, 3,
2. Argyle, M.: 1999. 'Causes and correlates of happiness', in
D. Kahneman, E.Diener and N. Schwartz (eds), Well-
being: The foundations of hedonic psychology. New York,
Russell-Sage Foundation.
3. Baumeister, R.F and M.R. Leary.: 'The need to belong:
Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental
human motivation', Psychological Bulletin, 117, 497-529.
4. Diener, E. and C. Diener.: 'The wealth of nations revisited:
Income and quality of life', Social Indicators Research, 36,
5. Diener, E. and R.E. Lucas: 2000. 'Explaining differences
in societal levels of happiness: Relative standards, need
fulfilment, culture an evaluation theory', Journal of
Happiness Studies 1, 41-78.
6. Diener, E., Horwitz, J. and Emmons, R.A.: 1985.
'Happiness of the very wealthy', Social Indicators, 16,
7. Eckersley, R.: 2000.'The mixed blessings of material
progress: Diminishing returns in the pursuit of
happiness', Journal of Happiness Studies, 1, 267-292.
8. Emmons, R.A.: 1986. 'Personal strivings: An approach to
personality and subjective well-being', Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 1058-1068.
9. Cummings, R.: 2000. 'Normative life satisfaction:
Measurement issues and a homeostatic model', in B.
Zunbo (ed) Methodological developments and issues in
quality of life research (Kluwer Academic Press, Dodrecht,
10. Duncan, O.: 1975. Does money buy satisfaction? Social
Indicators Research 2, 267-274.
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
11. Inglehart, R.: 1990. 'Culture shift in advanced industrial
society', Princeton, N.J, Princeton University Press.
12. Lykken, D.: (1999). 'Happiness', New York, Golden Books.
13. Myers, D.G.: 1993. 'The pursuit of happiness, Avon, New
14. Myers, D.G.: 2000. 'The funds, friends and faith of happy
people', American Psychologist, 53, 56-67.
15. Myers, D.G. and Diener, E.: 1996. 'The pursuit of
happiness, Scientific American, 274, 54-56.
16. Oswald, A.J.: 1997. 'Happiness and economic
performance, Economic Journal, 107, 1815-1831.
17. Perkins, H.W.: 1991. 'Religious commitment, yuppie
values and well-being in post-collegiate life', Review of
Religious Research, 32. 224-251.
18. Schyns, P.: 2000. 'Wealth of nations, individual income
and life satisfaction in 42 countries: A multilevel
approach.' In B. Zumbo (ed). Advances in quality of life
research, vol 2 (Kluwer Academic Publishers Dorecht,
19. Silver, R.L.: 1982. 'Coping with an undesirable life event:
A study of early reactions to physical disability. Doctoral
dissertation, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois.
20. Stone, A.A, and J.M. Neale.: 1984. 'Effects of severe daily
events on mood', Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology, 46, 137-144.
21. Suh, E., E. Diener and F. Fujita.: 1996. 'Events and
subjective well-being: Only recent events matter', Journal
of Social and Personality Psychology, 70, 1091-1102.
22. Veenhoven, R.: 1996. 'Happy life expectancy: A
comprehensive measure of quality of life in nations',
Social Indicators Research, 39, 1-58.
23. Veenhoven, R.: 1997. 'Advances in understanding
happiness; Revue Quebecoise de Psychologie, 18, 29-74.


Citation Scheme:


Citations by CSL (citeproc-js)

Usage Statistics



Customize your widget with the following options, then copy and paste the code below into the HTML of your page to embed this item in your website.
                            <div id="ubcOpenCollectionsWidgetDisplay">
                            <script id="ubcOpenCollectionsWidget"
                            async >
IIIF logo Our image viewer uses the IIIF 2.0 standard. To load this item in other compatible viewers, use this url:


Related Items