The Pursuit of Happiness

Sometimes information just seems to land in our laps exactly when we need it. The trick, of course, is to pay attention. This week as I was speed walking through a store I was stopped dead in my tracks by a poster with these words, “There is more to life than increasing its speed.”

It seems to be a common refrain these days as the majority of us are dealing with more and more data and less and less time. According to a recent digital lifestyle survey by, consumers and web surfers are facing a deluge of data growing faster than ever before. Sixty four percent of respondents said that the Information coming at them today had grown by more than 50% compared with last year. Family and friendships are suffering as 77% admitted to reading email and responding during evenings and weekends, 43% answer texts or emails while on a date or during a social occasion, and 57% never turn off their phones.

Ironically, I also received an email promoting “Take Back Your Time Day” on October 24th that also encouraged each of us to promote “happiness” initiatives in our own communities.

While initially it may sound a bit fluffy, happiness and the concept of “gross national happiness” or “GNH”, is anything but. GNH has been developed to measure social progress or quality of life in more holistic terms than the more commonly used gross domestic product (GDP).  GDP measures the amount of commerce in a country, including money spent on warfare, policy, pollution clean-up, etc. It doesn’t take into account natural-resource depletion and or the value of unpaid services such as volunteering. As such, GDP may not be the best way to measure quality of life. 

The term “gross national happiness” was first used in 1972 by King Jigme Singye Wangchuck of Bhutan as an indication of his commitment to building an economy based on Buddhist spiritual values. Although he initially used the phrase as an offhand remark, the concept was taken up by the Centre for Bhutan Studies who subsequently developed a survey instrument to measure the population’s general well-being.

While difficult to measure with mathematical precision given that some of the indicators require subjective opinions, the GNH now serves as a guiding vision for Bhutan’s economic and development planning process. Proposed policies in Bhutan must even pass a GNH review based on a GNH impact statement.

Interestingly enough, a Canadian epidemiologist named Michael Pennock helped design the instrument and has also applied it in Victoria, British Columbia as part of his work as the Co-Director of the Population and Public Health Observatory at the Vancouver Island Health Authority.

Ultimately, it means a measuring stick other than money is being utilized. As a result, there is more balance as both economic and spiritual development are being considered and reinforced.

The four pillars of GNH are the promotion of sustainable development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and establishment of good governance. These four pillars have been refined into eight general contributors to happiness - physical, mental and spiritual health; time-balance (this is where data overload is apt to be addressed); social and community vitality; cultural vitality; education; living standards; good governance; and ecological vitality. Although the GNH framework reflects its Buddhist origins, it is based upon the empirical research literature of happiness, positive psychology, and wellbeing.

GNH is part of a growing world-wide movement to eliminate measurement of commercial transactions as the predominant indicator of our quality of life, and instead, directly assess changes in the social and psychological well-being of populations. In other words, we’re finally starting to stop chasing growth as the only end, and instead placing more emphasis on the pursuit of happiness. Not such a bad idea because ultimately that balance seems to be what we’re looking for - both for ourselves and the communities where we live. 

Posted on 08-28-11


Great blog, Brenda!  We are all constantly reminded about the need for balance in our lives.  I love the idea that we also need to remind our communities about the same thing.  I think I’ll take the evening off today and go reconnect with some neighbours and put this into action!

•Posted by Janet Naclia  on  08/29/11  at  01:31 PM


So much punch in such a short space; great messages. There sure are a lot of people that need to read this one Brenda! Thanks.

•Posted by Carol Petersen  on  09/02/11  at  12:07 PM

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