We share extracts from a new book by Tho Ha Vinh (a lay Dharma Teacher in the Plum Village tradition) which explores how we can achieve collective wellbeing.
In this book, recently released by Parallax Press in September 2022, Tho Ha Vinh the program director of the Gross National Happiness Center of Bhutan,Bhutan is the only country in the world to measure progress by the happiness of its citizensexplains how the principles of happiness can and must apply to people, families, and communities at scale to produce the conditions for a truly satisfying life.
The Gross National Happiness indicator relies on four pillars – environmental conservation and resilience, sustainable and equitable social and economic development, preservation and promotion of culture, and good governance—honoring freedom, equality, and brotherhood and sisterhood within the larger context of interdependence as the foundation of all human life on earth.
Examples of the application of this indicator of happiness are given at different scales to demonstrate how one might use it in one’s personal life, at work or on a societal level. Below, we have selected and edited excerpts from various chapters of the book to inspire you to bring about inner change and social change. You may also preview the book here.
Realizing the interdependence between care for others and care for the planet
In our effort to understand true happiness, we can identify two obstacles on our path: ignorance, or disconnection from self, and greed, which disconnects us from our natural environment and creates a situation where our fellow humans are perceived not as sisters and brothers but as competitors fighting over scarce resources.
Insatiable desires lead each one of us to claim a much bigger share of the natural resources than our legitimate portion, and this leads to violence. Violent wars have been fought over oil—in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and elsewhere—but people can live without oil, even if, perhaps, not as comfortably. Without water, however, people cannot survive even a few days. This made me realize that the conflicts of the future, if we don’t do anything to control climate change, could involve a kind of violence that we have not yet seen.
From inner transformation to social change
As we reconnect with ourselves, most of us realize that we already have more than enough and that the conditions to be content are more than fulfilled. Gratitude generates contentment, and contentment allows us to live a simpler—but a more fulfilled—life, and this, in turn, creates a lifestyle that does not need to plunder the resources of nature, but to live, as Satish Kumar, calls it “with elegant simplicity,” in harmony with nature.
Empathy, compassion, kindness, and generosity can become the foundation of a new social and economic order that will, at the same time, be fair to all those living on the earth today and sustainable for the well-being of future generations.
All social systems were created by the human mind, and they are neither god-given nor natural laws; because we have created them, we are also able to change them. But these changes need to be rooted in a transformation of our own mindset.
From Gross Domestic Product to Gross National Happiness
The GDP simply measures a nation’s raw economic activity in terms of production and consumption; it makes no attempt to factor in the depletion of natural resources or the degradation of the environment, and it cares not for income inequality and all the ills that come with it. It does not discriminate between beneficial economic activity (such as investment in education, health care, or infrastructure) and negative activity (such as the cost of crime, pollution, and ecological damages)…. air pollution, cigarette advertising, napalm, and nuclear warheads are all counted as positive contributors to economic growth.
The other problem related with using solely GDP as an indicator is that it leaves out any human activity that is not connected to a financial transaction. We all know the importance of friendship and love, or simply walking in nature, in terms of our well-being. But none of these activities is taken into consideration because they are not dependent on financial transactions.
It is crucial to realize that the kind of measurement we use to assess the development of society plays an important role in directing the decisions that we make. What we count counts, because what we measure is what we are attentive to; it drives our decision-making process.
Since GDP is a measurement tool, we cannot simply replace it with a vision or values; we need to develop an alternative measurement tool. Gross National Happiness is not only a development paradigm, but it is also an indicator system that is able to provide a holistic understanding of the development of society.
You may purchase A Culture of Happiness – How to Scale Up from People to Organizations by Tho Ha Vinh from Parallax Press.