There is a small country in South Asia—Bhutan—where the government measures its success based on the collective happiness of its population.
The Bhutanese government has officially dubbed the measurement the Gross National Happiness Index.
Economics. Education. Health care. Crime.
These are all factors in much the same way most of the developed nations evaluate the state of things. Bhutan simply frames things differently. Bhutan’s government exists to create an environment for its citizens where they can pursue happiness. Not temporary measures to feel good. Not drugs. Not sex. Not alcohol. Not amusement parks. Not quick-hit entertainment. Not fake happy.
But, real happy. Long-term contentment.
The Gross National Happiness Index measures:
1. Psychological wellbeing
3. Time use
5. Cultural diversity and resilience
6. Good governance
7. Community vitality
8. Ecological diversity and resilience
9. Living standards
I didn’t know about this small country (less than one million people) with big ideas. A complete paradigm shift in the way we measure what’s really important.
Not material things.
Not “success” in the way western culture tends to superficially define it.
Wisdom: A Byproduct of Experience
I’m not wise. I’m not.
But compared to my high school and college years? Yeesh. I’m like a Master Jedi now.
It never dawned on me until after my wife left and I had so much time alone to evaluate who I was and who I wanted to be.
I’ve been chasing this dream of having stuff for so long. Chasing this idea that if I just had enough money, I’d eliminate all of my problems.
And I was lying to myself. And everyone chasing the dime is lying to themselves, too.
I knew it before last night. But last night really drove home this point for me.
While most of the country was tuned into the Academy Awards, I was watching a documentary I’d found on Netflix called “Happy.”
This film taught me about Bhutan. And it reinforced something I had already heard, but didn’t believe until now.
A person with an appalling lack of income—someone without the money to have their basic needs met—can increase their happiness quotient by a lot simply by coming into a salary or a pile of money that will allow those fundamental needs to be met: Food, clothing, shelter, safety, health care, transportation, general comfort, etc.
But once your basic needs are met? There just isn’t much to be gained from increasing your financial place in the world. Not from a “happiness” standpoint.
The research data suggested that there is an enormous amount of happiness to be gained between annual earnings of $0 and $50,000. But that there was very little change between someone making $50,000 versus someone making $50 million.
I would have never believed that 10—even, five—years ago.
But I do now. I believe it strongly.
Philip Seymour Hoffman. Whitney Houston. Kurt Cobain. Junior Seau. Judy Garland. Heath Ledger.
And we can go forever.
People who had what so many of us think we want. And they were absolutely miserable. So miserable, that they felt the only choice was ending their lives or doing enough drugs to make the pain of the real world go away.
According to the film, 50 percent of an individual’s ability to be truly happy comes from their genetic makeup. I thought that seemed pretty unlucky, if true. That people are genetically predisposed to feel sad.
And I instantly counted my blessings because I believe I’m genetically predisposed to feel happy as I have most of my life. I just never appreciated it like I do now after having gone through my worst few years.
An additional 10 percent comes from all of the stuff most people spend all of their time chasing: The money and the sex and the fun and the fame and the experiences and the stuff.
Wait. What about the other 40 percent?
According to the researchers from Baylor University consulted in this particular documentary? Intentions.
Our intentions make up 40 percent of our ability to feel or actually be happy.
The filmmakers zipped around the world capturing images and interviewing people in impoverished conditions in Asia and Africa and in poor regions of the United States.
And a lot of these people were VERY happy.
I thought it was a pretty effective film, and I’m glad I watched it. It provided some data to back up what I’d already been thinking about for several months now.
This idea that I no longer am interested in chasing the large bank account and big house. I’m not going to lie and say I don’t want those things. They’re just no longer on my list of goals.
All I want in this life is to feel true happiness and contentment. And I’d like to live a life where I can help other people achieve that, too.
I don’t want to make this about feelings. I just don’t have the vocabulary to word this differently.
But what really matters besides our health and happiness?
I submit: Nothing.
How to Feel Happy
Deliberately be happy. That’s the choice we’re faced with. Choosing to be happy, or choosing to not be.
Bad shit will happen. It will. But when our happiness muscle is fully flexed, our ability to show resiliency and bounce back will be on full display.
The chemical compound most responsible for our feelings of happiness is a substance called dopamine. Stimulants like cocaine, amphetamine and methamphetamine amplify the effects of dopamine.
Our brain’s ability to create dopamine decreases naturally as we age. Which might explain why so many of us miss being kids. We were LITERALLY happier then.
Researchers recommend engaging in healthy activities that increase dopamine levels in our body.
It’s all the stuff you already know about:
- Regular exercise.
- Being spiritually connected.
- Having active relationships with friends and family.
- Community involvement.
- Acts of kindness.
- Achievement, in all its various forms.
These are the things you need to focus on if you want to feel happy.
It begins with gratitude.
It ends with living for something greater than yourself.
And being connected every step of the way.
Somebody stop me if you think I’ve got this wrong.
But what matters more than this? Big-picture faith questions, aside. What, here on Earth, matters more than achieving long-term contentment?
I’m trying very hard to take a look at my life and make better choices that can lead me to this place. This state of being where I’m not just running around chasing the next short-term good time, only to feel shitty and unfulfilled the rest of the time.
I want what these truly happy people have.
And I want that for you, too.
Because we’re going to get there.