Bhutanese Penn State Fellow Shares Secret To Happiness

What’s the secret to happiness? Moving to Bhutan, apparently.

At least according to Tashi Dawa, a Bhutanese education specialist studying at Penn State through the Humphrey Fellowship Program. As part of the Schreyer Honors College’s “Shaping the Future Summit: The Power of Money” speakers series, Dawa gave a lecture to a packed Foster Auditorium regarding the efforts the Bhutanese government makes to ensure happiness amongst its citizens.

Dawa argued that the gross national happiness index, a measure employed by Bhutanese researchers, is a more holistic method in which to evaluate a nation’s development than gross domestic product, the commonly accepted economic indicator of a nation’s wealth.

“GDP is founded on the principal of the relentless pursuit of materialistic goods,” Dawa argued. “We pursue development and material goods as if there is no end, but we have finite recourses.”

Instead, Dawa urged, we should seek development with values, and a system in which every citizen, no matter socioeconomic background, should be happy. That’s when the Bhutanese government, long a monarchy but recently turned democracy, inaugurated the Gross National Happiness Commission. It analyzed over 30 indicators of happiness amongst Bhutanese citizens to determine policy that would render them happier. The index concentrates on five pillars: good governance, equitable socioeconomic development, conservation of the environment, and the preservation and promotion of culture.

“Ultimately, human happiness should take center stage in any developmental activity,” Dawa said.

Bhutan is a country rich in natural resources, but poor in more conservative financial terms. Over 70 percent of the country is forest, and it’s the only carbon negative nation in the world. In terms of GDP, it ranks No. 168 out of 194 countries. Still, 95 percent of its citizens consider themselves happy.

According to Dawa, when Bhutan presented its findings to the United Nations General Assembly in 2011, several countries including Canada and Japan adopted similar approaches at the city level. But Bhutan, a country of less than a million people and unemployment under three percent, is a land of different values, with free education and health care amongst them. For example, it sees its incredibly low unemployment as an issue.

“Every university graduate should be doing something,” Dawa said.

State College isn’t a miserable place in its own right, granted, it was recently ranked the happiest small community in America.

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Ben Berkman

State College, PA

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