The Seattle Project

There was an amazing response to my last post about Hygge (pronounced “Hoo-gah”). So I’m following up by continuing the discussion, focusing in on this thing we call happiness. Exploring why happiness matters, and how to bring more hunky-dory feelings into our day-to-day living.

Not just because happiness is a worthwhile goal, although mellowing in blissful mental states is most definitely high on the list. But also because when we’re clear-eyed, feeling the groove, and our mind is in a good place, then we’re driven by positive, constructive thoughts, and we make healthier decisions all around.

This includes money related decisions, i.e., better investment choices, increasing savings and reducing debt. In short, happiness is good for the head, the heart, and the wallet.

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Gross National Product … Rejection!

If you read the business pages, you’ve no doubt come across the term, Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Technically, GDP is defined as the value of all goods and services made by a country’s residents and businesses. In essence, GDP refers to measurement of an economy’s output or production. And it’s used to gauge the health of a country’s economy.

GDP plays a large role in driving government policy and Central Bank interest rates, both of which aim for strong, sustainable GDP growth. Because the thinking goes that more economic growth means more employment, more people making and spending money, and a more prosperous nation.

And, so says conventional wisdom, when people have money to burn, they are happier. Governments like happy, content people because they’re less likely to agitate for change, less likely to ‘throw the bums out’ at the next election. Thus continues the relentless focus on GDP.

The government of Bhutan doesn’t buy it. Bhutan (bordered by Tibet and India; human population less than one million) rejects the idea that prosperity is measured strictly in economic terms. Instead, the Bhutanese people measure prosperity through Gross National Happiness, i.e., ‘well-being’ takes preference over material growth.

But let me be clear here: Bhutan is not saying that GDP doesn’t matter. Not at all, because economic output, growth, has tremendous potential benefits for individuals and all of society. But Bhutan’s question is … growth at what cost? 

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The Happiness Alliance

There’s a non-profit organization based in Seattle, Washington, called The Happiness Alliance (HA). Inspired by Bhutan, these forward thinking folks assume a holistic view of life that expands the concept of prosperity beyond how much dough you can jingle jangle in your pocket.

Here’s the jist of what HA has to say:

  • The purpose of government is to secure equitable opportunities for all people’s happiness.
  • The purpose of the economy is for human happiness and planetary sustainability.
  • The point of life is to be happy.
  • You are the happiness movement.

Radical notions? That instead of going to battle every day for our share of the pie, accumulating as much stuff as we’re able and keeping it to our self, well, we’re all in it together, cooperating, compromising, accepting shared responsibility, breathing life into the notion of ‘common good’.

And we can do so if we understand that,

“You are the happiness movement.”

Really, I love this! The idea that it’s up to each of us to shape our own perspective, to choose to let the light in … or not. Now, I’m not here to tell you what that means, to let the light in. That’s personal, it’s for you to figure out.

But I will reveal my own hand in saying that when enough people see the purpose of government as being to secure equitable opportunities for all peoples happiness, then you get a society like Denmark (see The Danish Way of Wealth) that repeatedly scores at or near the top of the World Happiness Report.

Denmark. Derided by some as a ‘welfare’ state. Praised by others for adopting a balanced approach to life. Not pursuing growth at all costs yet enjoying a high standard of living. Compassionate toward its people. All of its people. Not just those fortunate enough to afford a middle class, or higher, lifestyle.

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What Does Wealth Mean To You

That’s the question we all have to ask. What is wealth? How do our values inform our definition of wealth? And does monetary wealth affect our values?

Is wealth only about accumulating assets? Or is there more to being wealthy? Is it about finding contentment? Does contentment lead to the warm and fuzzies? Some would say that contentment is our greatest wealth.


Enter Buddha

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The cause of suffering is craving. When one is filled with intense drive to acquire, the drive in itself causes suffering, causes much anxiety, and little satisfaction even once the desired object is attained.

Do not confuse quality of life with a quantitative ‘standard of living’. Quantity does not lead to happiness.