I Want To Be Like Bhutan When I Grow Up

Posted on July 5, 2012

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Last week I stumbled across a documentary on PBS about Bhutan and I was fascinated and subsequently inspired.

Tiny country with a big, big vision.

In the 1970’s the King of Bhutan was asked by a reporter about the size of his country’s Gross National Product; he responded that he was more interested in Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness. In simple terms, he aspired for his country to achieve a balance between material and non-material needs.

Gross National Happiness (GNH) is guided by the “four pillars”—sustainable development, environmental protection, cultural preservation, and good governance. With this philosophy in place, Bhutan has pulled itself out of abject poverty so far without compromising cultural identity or natural resources.

I wondered if it was possible that this Himalayan nation might help answer some of my own most vexing questions.

Humankind Asks: 
How can a society maintain its identity in the face of the flattening forces of globalization?
Liz Asks:
How can a woman maintain her own quirky identity in the face of the debilitating demands of a consumer-driven society?

Is it easier to be a good human being if you live on the side of a remote mountain?

Humankind Asks:
How can a country embrace the good of the modern world without falling prey to the bad?
Liz Asks:

How can I love the Real Housewives but not become one?

Humankind Asks:
Can there ever be a happy balance between tradition and development?
Liz Asks:
Can I ever learn to balance my love of all things kitchen-y without becoming a frumpy haus frau?

I plan to watch and learn from Bhutan and, as I have no map, I thought it might be interesting to apply Bhutan’s four pillars to my own life and see if I could form a guiding path for my own life. I too am close to abject poverty. I too believe success and quality of life are measured by more than dollars in the bank and material possessions. And I have a high need to develop a sustainable future for myself and my daughter but have a high desire to cultivate and protect my identity.

Here goes…Liz’s Guide to Gross National Happiness…

GNH Pillar 1: Sustainable Development
For Bhutan:
In order to foster and enhance economic growth one must be able to engage in economic activities so the government of Bhutan puts a priority on social services, especially health and education.
For Liz:
Without a healthy mind and body I cannot contribute on any level to my own economic, material or spiritual development. I must prioritize and attend to basic needs – doctor’s visits, trips to the dentist, oil changes for the car, etc. I may also need to reconsider what a basic need is. Perhaps because yoga classes, reading, exposure to art and such may be considered sustenance for my soul and spirit they need to be considered priorities, as well?

Pillar 2: Conservation of Environment
For Bhutan:
The country was “Green” before it was cool. Nowadays the natural environment is an economic asset to Bhutan in the areas of tourism and energy and as such they regulate, preserve and protect fiercely to avoid exploitation.
For Liz:
Ok, this is tough for me. I suppose I could be more diligent about recycling but maybe I need to dig a little deeper. To me, protecting the environment is really about preserving something that does not belong to you for the sake of those you share the planet with and those who will come after us. So perhaps I can stretch this to something larger than recycling (which I promise I will be better about!) and look toward building and contributing to something greater than me for others to benefit from? I’m thinking volunteering may be my 2nd Pillar. Whaddya think? Too loose of an interpretation?

Pillar 3: Preservation & Promotion of Culture
For Bhutan:
In addition to providing a strong sense of identity and values to all Bhutanese, the preservation of their cultural heritage also provides a strong link and support between the individual and society at large acting as a social security net.
For Liz:
Huge! Pursuit of your own, selfish desires threatens bonding as part of a family or network of friends. No doubt, I will follow my dreams but with Bhutan in mind, perhaps I need to balance my own drive, ambition and fantasies with concern for and integration of my pals, my family and loved ones in that vision. How can I help them achieve their dreams, too? I am healthier, stronger and safer if my network is healthier, stronger and safer.

Pillar 4: Good Governance
For Bhutan:
The country is dedicated to establishing a system of governance that promotes the well-being and happiness of its citizens. To this end, they have transitioned to a democratic constitutional monarchy.
For Liz:
An individual’s (mine in this case) quest for happiness, and inner and outer freedoms, is the most precious endeavor. I must decide what happiness is for me and above all should not sacrifice any freedom for convenience, luxury or comfort. My desire to be an entrepreneur. My decision to be a single mother. My commitment to leading an unconventional life are all acts of freedom. Each comes with a price – responsibility, accountability, and no clear path to follow. Happiness may not be the end result of any of these aspirations or life choices, rather the by-product of the endeavor to live consciously, harmoniously and independently.

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