A short time ago I read some interesting news on the internet. It was about a University of Leicester psychologist who had produced the first ever “world map of happiness”. The top 10 happiest people live in Denmark, Switzerland, Austria, Iceland, Bahamas, Finland, Sweden, Bhutan, Brunei and Canada. Most of these ten countries are high income “first world” countries. The only exception is Bhutan.

Bhutan is located the Himalaya’s Shannan foothills. It is precipitous, the terrain is rugged, in an area approximately 47,000 square kilometers, and it is clamped between India and China. It is separated from Nepal by only an 88km wide stretch of India’s western Sikkim state. Of the three main ethnic groups in Bhutan (Tibetan, Nepalese, and Indian), the strongest ties are with Tibet. Sixty five percent believe in Tibetan Buddhism. They are also extremely close in blood relationships, language and writing.

We all know about the significance of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and GNP’s (Gross National Product) as an indicator of a country’s economy development as well as quality of life. But have you ever heard about the GNH(Gross National Happiness)? The king of Bhutan, His Majesty Jigme Singeve Wangchuck, first expressed the term Gross National Happiness in 1972. It is rooted in the Buddhist notion that the ultimate purpose of life is inner happiness. Today Bhutan’s average per person GDP is little more than 700 US dollars, but the majority of people all live and work in peace and contentment. This lets Bhutan exist like paradise in today’s troubled world situations.

I read another study from the New Economics Foundation, a London-based researcher. It talked about “The Happy Planet Index”. Right at the top, as the world’s happiest place, is Vanuatu, a group of South Pacific islands populated by fisherman and farmers.

Both of the above mentioned little countries are ranked low on the world GDP and GNP. How could they feel so happy?

I think they are simply content with what they have in their life. I still remember when I was a kid in Taiwan. It was still a poor country then. Sometimes we got a chance to share an apple and I remember being very happy and thankful even when the apple was not crispy. As I got older Taiwan’s economy improved and we could eat apples every day but I didn’t have the same feeling as before. Sometimes I think people who are living in these advanced, high-income countries feel happier because they have a good income and a good social welfare system. If their GNP and GDP were to change would they still have the same happiness, like the people who live in Bhutan and Vanuatu?

World-view influences whether or not people have happiness, specifically, how we make comparisons and the importance of worldly goods. If we compare our present life to our past and see our life as better than before, then it’s usually easy to feel happy and satisfied. Unhappiness comes if we make comparisons to other people where we perpetuate feelings of envy and unfounded injustice i.e. why do they have a big house when I work hard every day and don’t have one myself? This will make you feel resentment and treated unfairly by life and then you don’t have happiness anymore.

If money can buy happiness, the famous and rich like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, would be the happiest since they can buy anything they desire. Yet we don’t see this. Instead we see them donating their property to charity organizations and creating non-profit foundations. Why do they do this? I believe that making a lot of money gives them the potential to feel happy, but when they know their money is helping a lot of other people’s lives get better, thereby improving society, they actually feel very happy.

Dr. David E. Myers, author of “The Pursuit of Happiness” said humans need food, sleep, warmth and to associate with other people. With regard to hungry Sudanese and homeless Iraqis, money might buy more happiness. But, if you own more than what you need for everyday life it doesn’t bring you extra happiness and advantages. Once people feel comfortable, less and less satisfaction is gained with spending money. World wide, income has only a poor correlation to happiness. In America and Canada income has no correlation to happiness. We can use income to indicate one kind of happiness, but it can’t to affect your marriage, family, friendship or personal satisfaction. “Watch television, and you’ll learn that the good life is in a new car, a cold beer, or a new drug. Look at surveys, and [North] Americans say they want more money. But look inside at what actually gives you joy, and the good life may be closer than you thought”. (from http://www.yesmagazine.org/article.asp?id=866).

So what does happiness mean for me? I think it is to feel contentment for what I already own and to do my best to help improve other people’s lives. “Fall short of the best but be better than the worst after all.”

-Danny Lai