Gross National Happiness

Each person on this earth has an individual idea of what happiness is and what leads them towards happiness in their daily lives.  Many of us believe, myself included, that obtaining and maintaining a happy existence is perhaps the most important goal of this life.  What a great example we can be to others in being able to show it is possible to live a happy life.

I think thats pretty powerful.

The 4th king of Bhutan declared that Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product.

This is a poignant idea. Especially for those of us who have been raised in the western world.  The majority of our lives we are taught that economic growth is the ultimate objective and when personal, professional, and national economies grow, this growth begets happiness. (Is this a concept of the current elections…?  Just curious if anyone is focusing on this at all…I have not been keeping up…) I know I have felt that pull in my life. Because we have so often associated monetary and material wealth with happiness, it is astoundingly difficult to remove this concept from our thoughts.  I know the more personal wealth I earned, I didn’t necessarily feel any happier yet even today, I still think there would be a higher level of happiness if I had a nice chunk of change to “not have to worry” about things…

The concept of Gross National Happiness in Bhutan is based on the premise that true development of society takes place when material and spiritual development occur side by side and complement one another. (Rather than the material or economic growth being the first, only and most important path to happiness.) It is more than a spiritual pursuit however. There are four pillars to Gross National Happiness and they have been written to embody the national and local values of the Bhutanese.  They also consider the aesthetics and spiritual traditions of this nation.

4 Main Pillars of Gross National Happiness:

1. Equitable and equal socio-economic development,

2. Preservation and promotion of cultural and spiritual heritage

3. Conservation of environment

4. Good governance which are interwoven, complementary, and consistent

Thats a lot to think about.

I’ll try to break it down based on my experience in Bhutan. Here is an example of how these could be put into action using the example of starting a business in the USA.

Lets say you want to start a business, like a restaurant.  As you begin to write your business plan, instead of focusing on the average check per person, daily costs and potential for profit based on assumed popularity and target demographics of the restaurant, you start with the opposite.

You decide that you want happy employees because happy employees will be nicer to your guests and the more people who have a good experience, the more people will come back and also tell their friends to try your place.  Perhaps you splurge with higher wages, benefits and hire enough employees so flexible time off is an option. You decide you want to do all of the things for your employees you would like for yourself.

This checks number one. Because you also want to be happy and have a business which supports your ideal lifestyle – instead of focusing on just creating that for YOU – you also build the foundation to create that for others as well, in this case, your employees.  (By extension, your guests as well because happiness is a bit contagious.)

Next you might think about the values you would like your company to embody – what kind of culture are you going to create?  Are you a fun take your shirt off and dance on the tables bar or are you a fine dining place with the utmost professionalism?  Make that decision and embody it in all you do.  Staff meetings are either a party or a fun professional gathering.

Number two, define your values and incorporate them in all you do.  Chick Fil A is a great recent example of defining what they value.  Whether you agree with the stance of Chick Fil A or not, it would be awesome to see more companies and individuals feel empowered enough to talk about what they believe and then LIVE it.  When you understand your core values and are not afraid to stand up to protect them, even if they appear to promote discrimination like the case of Chick Fil A, pretty powerful stuff happens.  Might make you feel pretty good too – even happy – because you are being you and that is awesome.

As you consider your products, you realize that a restaurant can have a large impact on the earth and create a ton of waste.  You respect the planet and the fact that we are all part of this whole. You create a plan to buy local, grow stuff on your roof and compost as much food waste as possible.  And because this is important, you tell people about your policies and teach your employees about the value of our earth.

Number three, how do we limit our impact on our environment and perhaps even improve our earth through what we, our company, does in our daily lives?  Really think about how we are all interconnected beings on this planet and define how you would like to act to support that.  How cool would it be if before we built a house, started a business or even updated a path in a park that we tried to understand how what we are doing could improve the earth while we create something new?  Very cool approach.

As you define this vision of the company you would like to create, you realize that you need a proper course of action which can tie all of these great ideas together. As the owner, you get to be the person who is actually going to live this and teach this on a daily basis.  As this sinks in, you may begin to realize that equitable development for all, defined culture and care for the earth are the most important parts of your business.


Without happy employees, you know your business could suffer rather than soar.

Without a defined culture, no one will really know how to act, react and interact with one another or your customers.

Without a proper earth – well, that would be an issue.

Number four ties it all together. It allows you to take the most important parts of creating and running a successful business and put them into action because it reminds us to ensure all we do is complimentary.

What about economic growth?  I mean, I’m not going to get rich if I give my employees all of that extra stuff or hire more people.  Buying local, composting and growing stuff…thats going to cost me more too.  So much for being a restaurant millionaire!*

Thats right.

The idea as I have seen it in action in Bhutan is that being that millionaire is not priority #1.  It can happen and often does. The priority is Gross National Happiness.  Take some time to think about Gross National Happiness because it is the opposite of what comes natural to most of us. You have to define the stuff that is REALLY important first – lifestyle, values & respect.  Then you live it and teach it. Now, because the important stuff is right for you, your employees, your guests, your environment – you can start a company with faith in the fact because the foundation is strong, that profits to maintain the business will follow.  The ability to support the lifestyle you desire for yourself and your employees will follow.

Happiness will follow.

You may not be a restaurant millionaire, but you are happy.  And you might have increased the happiness of those around you too – which is very cool.

No, its not die hard capitalism.  It’s not socialism either.  It is moderation.

What is really most important in our life anyway?

MORE Happiness Tips

So how does this work in daily life?  Are the Bhutanese really that happy?

They are pretty happy and I’m a pretty happy person – happier since spending time in Bhutan – so here are some bonus thoughts on applying GNH in your personal life.

A quote I’ve often heard from my father and I actually heard in Bhutan (where the average per capita income is less than 2,000 USD a year…) – “you can’t take it with you”.  Its not like your wealth and possessions follow you to heaven or perhaps the next cycle of life, as they think here in Bhutan.

The context in which this was delivered in Bhutan was a man wondering why people were spending so much money on building a house they cannot take with them in the next life…why not just build something functional and do better stuff with your money was his thought.  My interpretation, if you have some cash and want to do something, just do it.  Take the trip your dreaming about or start that business. Donate to a cause you love. Build the house you would like to live in, just don’t dream about it. The real point is to do it because as far as we know, we only get one life.  Its a good time to stop worrying about a magic number in the bank or what the neighbors think – just stop dreaming and start doing.

This is the Faith in Fate idea I mentioned in “The Land of the Thunder Dragon”.

Doing “what” of course is the eternal question.  My advice, take time to really think about your ideal lifestyle.  What that really looks like – what does the ideal daily life look like now and what does it look like 20 years from now?  Make some notes.  Then, make some notes on how you can make it happen.  What kind of career is required to support the ideal, for example.  Make a little list and see what happens. Take a few months to do this exercise because the ideas will evolve. Never know, you may take off on a 4 month RTW trip…

You know what will also happen during this exercise, you will learn to love the current skies you are under as well.  VERY COOL!

Most Bhutanese understand their core values.  They have taken the time to understand what their faith or even lack of faith means to them in how they go about their daily lives.  Its good to take time and make notes on what you really believe in and then decide to live it on a daily basis.  For example, if you are a Christian, re-acquaint yourself with what this means, decide what it means to you and start living that style of life.  Certainly this will not happen quickly but it can be practiced.  Practicing what you believe to be true, that feels pretty awesome.

Respect.  I see this one as non-negotiable.  Respect for the Earth, other people, beliefs, faiths, ideas, cultures – all of it.

Choose Respect.

No Discrimination.


You do not have to agree with a persons decision or beliefs but you should respect them, even if its only for being a fellow human. Good time to Restore Respect in our daily actions. I believe it is a key element to a happier existence.  I saw a lot of respect in Bhutan.

Ideal Lifestyle + Core Values + Respect = Happiness

Its not a perfect equation but after spending time in this tiny Kingdom of Happiness and seeing it in action, its a good start.


*Restaurant Millionaire = Oxymoron.  Thought I would spell out the joke on that one

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3 Responses to “Gross National Happiness”

  1. Mom
    October 27, 2012 at 11:15 am #

    What powerful thoughts GC ! I will be reading this post several times knowing that each time I read it i will work on my own happiness and how I can bring a bit of happiness to others. Thank you for these beautiful thoughts. Love mom:)

  2. Dad
    October 27, 2012 at 6:51 pm #

    Reading this made me want to visit Bhutan firsthand myself, as you have just done. I love your happiness equation. Well written and well said GC. And I can certainly relate to everything you said here. Excellent article Grant! Love you, ~dad

  3. Steve Glover
    October 27, 2012 at 7:42 pm #

    You write nicely Grant. But I tend to disaggree with the over all “happines” there. The ethnic discrimination is very oppressive. What may seem as happiness among minorities and tribes is just there own government keeping full control. There ways and means of modernazation, and environmental care are poor examples of a “happy” means to life. Do you really believe that one’s beliefs of happiness is completet control?
    The government does not permit citizenship for these Bhutanese, so most of them have become stateless refugee. [40] Excessive bureaucratic obstacles have been used to hinder their relatives from getting id cards and voting rights.[40]

    Bhutan considers the political parties of these refugees illegal and terrorist.[40]

    According to human rights organizations Bhutan violates human rights by forcing everybody, even the minorities to use the traditional dresses of the ethnic majority in public spaces.[40] The state discriminates Nepalese minority also in education, employment and land ownership

    I have studied Buddhism for a long, long time. Even made it to a matra. This govenment is not following the light and spirtuality of Buddhism. It’s a beautiful place to visit, but did you smile and sign the form that you left on your own will? That the government did not “kick” you out? I feel for those people and the unfortunate mirage of “happiness” they are forced to live under! I see a complete different side. We could not even get in under “christian peace corp oppservation.” Happy travels.

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