Gross National Happiness / Bhutan's bottom line

by Morgen Jahnke

Although I don’t often give a lot of attention to news about economic indicators and analysis, preferring the much more enthralling subject of tax law to fill any spare time I have left to think about these kinds of things, I recently found out about an economic phenomenon that interested me greatly. I learned that the tiny nation of Bhutan, located between its gigantic neighbors, China and India, has a different way of measuring its success. Known as gross national happiness, this measurement of the quality of its citizens lives’ as opposed to their productivity, turns the usual economic indicator, gross domestic product (GDP), on its ear.

Gross Domestic Products
Also known as gross national product (GNP), gross domestic product refers to the total value of goods and services produced by a country within a certain time period. This measurement is meant to show the size of a country’s economy, and is sometimes used to track the standard of living, as it is assumed that increased productivity translates into better living conditions for citizens.

There are some flaws to this approach, however. Since GDP does not discriminate between positive and negative causes of productivity, a natural disaster can add to the GDP (because of the resources and work put into counteracting its effects), although the event itself is hardly in the best interests of society. Similarly, environmental catastrophes (such as oil spills), the ravages of war, and medical procedures inflate the GDP while having an ill effect on human life and the environment.

Another deficiency of using the GDP as a measurement of national advancement is that it has an extremely narrow focus. For example, using the GDP measurement, the unpaid work of child rearing and housekeeping has no value, nor do non-monetary transactions such as bartering for goods and services.

In short, the whole sphere of human existence cannot be reflected using the GDP, and in fact, GDP distorts the picture because it counts all economic activity as positive, without the counterbalance of what has been lost in terms of environmental damage and human suffering.

For these reasons, economists have come up with another measure of economic growth—the Genuine Progress Indicator, or GPI. This indicator takes into account both the positive and negative effects of a country’s economic activity, in theory providing a much clearer picture of the well-being of its citizens.

WWBD (What Would Buddha Do)?
In 1972, the king of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, coined the term gross national happiness (GNH) to describe the path Bhutan would take to economic development. Drawing on the spiritual tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, GNH is designed to balance economic progress with the well being of the Bhutanese people.

In the words of the Royal Government of Bhutan, “Gross national happiness comprises four pillars: economic self-reliance, environmental preservation, cultural promotion, and good governance. These four goals are mutually linked, complementary, and consistent. They embody national values, aesthetics, and spiritual traditions.”

This approach has had admirable results; not only has the wildlife and landscape of Bhutan been protected (including the endangered snow leopard, and much of the country’s forests), but its cultural traditions have been preserved as well. Its citizens have benefited in other ways, including an extremely high rate of government spending on education and health care (almost 18% of the national budget).

Not surprisingly, GNH has captured the attention of economists around the world, including those who advocate for GPI as opposed to GDP as an economic indicator. In response to this interest, there have been two international conferences on GNH: one in Bhutan in February 2004, and most recently in Nova Scotia in June 2005.

A Nepal-ing Situation
While Bhutan can be held up as a model for other countries to follow in creating a more humane economy, it has not been entirely successful in creating its own peaceful and productive society. The government’s concern with conserving the country’s cultural traditions, and restricting outside influences, has led to some measures that might not be tolerated by citizens of other countries, including restrictions on television and internet access and a traditional dress requirement.

Of more concern is the mass exodus in 1990 of 100,000 citizens of Nepalese descent in response to a government ban on the use of the Nepalese language in schools and colleges. Since 1990, these refugees have been living in camps in Nepal, while Bhutan, Nepal, and India have failed to agree on how they should be accommodated.

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Bhutan
Despite these problems, there is something very attractive about belonging to a society that views the pursuit of gross national happiness as its prime objective. It would be extremely interesting to see the same dynamic going on in other countries: how would our world change if the U.S., the European Union, and other large economies implemented this policy? Maybe we could take the snow leopard off the endangered list once and for all. —Morgen Jahnke

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More Information about Gross National Happiness…

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This article was featured in Carnival of the Green #42.

More information about Gross National Happiness:

  • Orville Schell, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, writes about his visit to Bhutan in the article Gross National Happiness, found on the PBS Frontline Web site.
  • On the Travel Bhutan Web site, Gopilal Acharya provides some details about the first international conference on GNH.
  • Thinley Choden’s article, Bhutan’s Emphasis on Expanding “Gross National Happiness” on describes how the Buddhist practice of jimba corresponds with GNH.
  • You can find more information about GDP, GPI, and GNH in the Wikipedia
cover art

A classic of nature writing, Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard tells of his trek through Tibet in search of the rare cat.

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This Integrative Doctor Wants You To Go To Sleep

Tiffany LesterTiffany Lester (Image: Dr. Tiffany Lester)


Whether you’re starting your own business, working the nine-to-five, juggling college courses and a part-time job, or trying to balance between caring for the family and getting projects done, the need for quality sleep is crucial.

Dr. Tiffany Lester, an integrative medicine doctor based in Cincinnati, recently spoke to Black Enterprise about the effects of poor sleep on established executives and those working to make it to the C-Suite. She noted that restorative rest is the key to having it all and making it all work. It’s the reason why she created The Unconscious Workout, a 21-day digital plan that is similar to a high-intensity, interval training workout and aims to get you into the best sleep shape of your life.

Check out Dr. Lester’s prescription for getting better sleep every night:

Black Enterprise: How can lack of sleep affect how we operate and do things, like managing finances, making important life decisions, leading a company or a group of people, and so forth?

Dr. Lester: Sleep is one of the only things that we literally cannot live without.  If we don’t sleep, we will go clinically insane. If you’re trying to lead a company or any type of business, or if you are just trying to do your job at your company, a lack of good sleep makes it take longer to complete certain tasks. It can also make you irritable. It contributes to brain fog: when the mind gets cobwebbed and cannot process or think clearly. Sleep is absolutely critical for anyone that wants to be successful.

BE: Why should women of color consider The Unconscious Workout? Are there any ailments that they are more likely to get that The Unconscious Workout and quality sleep in general can help to prevent?

Dr. Lester: There are no specific ailments; it’s a universal thing for all people. Culturally, for black women, there’s this guilt—I think—that we tend to carry. [We feel like] we have to do it all. If you want to try to do it all, go for it. But, you can’t do it that if you’re not sleeping well.

BE: What can we do every day to ensure that we are on our way to better sleep?

Dr. Lester: There are four stages, and each one is essential.

  • Stage 1: This is the pre-sleep stage, or the “warm-up.” We warm-up before we exercise to prepare our bodies and protect against injury. The same concept goes for sleep. You can’t expect to watch the latest episode of Game of Thrones and then just fall asleep. It doesn’t work that way. Our bodies and mind need to be gently eased into sleep. Takeaway: Set a bedtime alarm.
  • Stage 2: This is the “light” stage, and it is similar to LIIT (low-intensity interval training). This is the stage where we first start to nod off, and we can still be woken up with little effort. Most people don’t need to improve this stage, unless they are absolutely exhausted and can go straight into a deep sleep. Often, people can be woken up in this stage by a barking dog or passing ambulance, and they have to start all over. Protect this stage of your sleep by wearing ear plugs or a sleep mask, so you aren’t disrupted.
  • Stage 3: This is the “deep” stage, and it is similar to MIIT (moderate-intensity interval training). During this stage, our brain produces relaxing, slow waves to aid our body in healing. This is critical to our health, to clean out all of the cobwebs that have accumulated throughout the day. One of the most important aspects of sleeping well is that it allows our bodies to detox and restore. This is a critical stage, in order to feel awake during the day and for our bodies to function optimally. The best way to ensure you are getting to the deep sleep stage is to exercise for at least 20-30 minutes each day, preferably in the morning.
  • Stage 4: This is the REM stage, or the often elusive dream stage. This stage is similar to HIIT (high-intensity interval training). Most people who say they sleep well are still not dreaming. When you reach this stage on a regular basis, you are able to access your deepest intuition. It is a way for our consciousness to solve a problem for a project at work or express what we really wanted to say to our partner who upset us. In terms of HIIT workout, this is also where we burn the most calories to maintain a healthy weight. To get your best sleep ever, we must allow our bodies to dip into the REM stage of sleep. Our coffee-addicted society is the most common way we rob ourselves of this essential stage. Give yourself a caffeine curfew, and do not consume it in any form after 12 noon. Caffeine has been shown to reduce or eliminate REM stage sleep.

BE: What is one important thing a person can do to get restorative deep sleep, if they don’t want to commit to the three-week digital program?

Dr. Lester: Turn off your phone and step away from the electronics, including the TV or Netflix. The biggest thing is people don’t give themselves time for their body and brain to wind down. Just as you set an alarm in morning, set an alarm for bed. Plus, invest in some comfy sleeping clothes, a good eye mask that doesn’t mess up your hair, ear plugs, and make it a priority–make it a ritual. We should do this ideally an hour before bed, and at least 30 minutes before [going to sleep].

BE: How crucial is it to also exercise?

Dr. Lester: It’s vital. What’s also vital is the time at which you workout. Working out in the morning is best, as it activates the parasympathetic nervous system. It sets you up for the whole day, and [helps you] sleep better that night. If you do workout at night, don’t do anything too intense, like running on a treadmill.


Source: Black Enterprise

Assateague Island / The beach where people go to enjoy . . . the beach

Guest Article by Jillian Hardee

When I was young, my friends and their families would head out to the commercial beaches for their vacations. By “commercial beaches,” I mean the ones with oceanfront hotels, boardwalks, and a dizzying array of lights. My vacations, however, were quite different, as they were spent at Assateague, a 37-mile-long island off the coast of Maryland and Virginia. The island is owned by both states, and the state line divides it in two. Because it is a national seashore and wildlife refuge, buildings on this island are few and far between. Not a hotel, restaurant, or arcade can be found here. The beach offers a 360° view of the sea and sky, with nothing to mar the experience except for horseflies and kamikaze kites.

What do you mean there’s no boardwalk?
Assateague is a natural barrier island, so it is constantly battered by water and wind. Its topography changes often. Since 1866, it has “moved” a quarter of a mile inland. My vacations were spent on the Virginia side of Assateague, and as a child I remember wooden steps and walkways that would take you up and over the high sand dunes. After being away from Assateague for a few years and then coming back as an adult, I found the high dunes were gone, and smaller, less-protective dunes had taken their place. Water and sand are constantly moving on this island. Changes in landscape and scenery on Assateague are expected and accepted.

Most visitors to the Virginia side of the island stay on the nearby island of Chincoteague. Because there are no hotels on Assateague itself, vacationers must drive onto the island and then out to the beach, a short 5–10 minute car ride from Chincoteague. Due to this relative isolation, you might find yourself wondering what appeal this island could have. Not for entertainment junkies, Assateague has many things to offer those who love an unspoiled beach. A short walk up or down the coast will take you away from the summer crowds and into remoteness, where you may only encounter a lone fisherman or wandering beachcombers. On the southern end of the island, 4-wheel drive vehicles are allowed (by special permit) to drive out on the sand, allowing access to the southern tip of the island and more secluded areas.

Aside from swimming, sunbathing, and fishing, the island has many outdoor activities. Nature tours are diverse and can range from marsh walks to bird-watching expeditions. Canoe and boat rentals allow for more personal and scenic views of the island and its waterways. There are also a myriad of chartered excursions for inland and ocean fishing. For those who don’t have their sea legs, crabbing and clamming are popular and easy. The Assateague Lighthouse, reached by a short walk through a pine forest, is occasionally open for visitors to ascend. Additionally, there are many bike paths that transverse the marshes and forests, allowing for close views of the vast populations of waterfowl, migratory birds, and mammals. At any other beach, an encounter with wildlife usually involves a seagull stealing your sandwich. At Assateague, wildlife and nature take center stage, and humans are merely visitors just passing through.

Pony Penning
Although a harsh environment, Assateague has a herd of wild ponies, more casually referred to as the “Chincoteague Ponies.” These horses have inhabited the island for at least 300 years. Originally thought to have swum ashore from a wrecked Spanish galleon, it is more widely believed that settlers brought them on the island to graze. Today they survive on marsh grass and other island roughage. Two separate herds exist, one belonging to each state, and they are kept isolated from one another by a fence at the border. Although true horses, they are often referred to as ponies due to their small stature, which is most likely a consequence of their marsh diet.

To keep the population numbers of the Virginia herd down, the ponies are annually driven across the channel in late July to the neighboring town of Chincoteague. Here, the horses (mostly foals) are auctioned off and the money collected benefits the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company. In recent years, individual horses were sold for an average of US$2,000, with the largest bid being $10,500 in 2001 for a single horse! The last few Pony Penning events have auctioned off an average of 85 horses per year. The number of horses auctioned is dictated by herd size, as the Virginia side of Assateague Island is only permitted a maximum of 150 horses. After the auction, the remaining horses swim back across the channel and resume their lives on the island. The actual pony swim officially dates to the 1920s, although some form of pony herding has occurred since the 1700s. Pony Penning is an extremely popular event, and festivities span an entire week. Large crowds of hopeful bidders as well as spectators crowd onto the island. Today, Chincoteague ponies can be found all across the United States as a result of this auction.

Marguerite Henry wrote a notable series of children’s books about the horses and the annual swim. The first and most popular book, called Misty of Chincoteague, was written around 1948 and was based on a real Chincoteague family and their pony. This pony (the “real Misty”) died in 1972, and was allegedly stuffed and put on display. I don’t recall ever seeing the stuffed version of Misty while vacationing in Chincoteague, and I prefer to keep it that way.

Today the ponies can be seen in a variety of places on the island at different points of the day. They usually roam in smaller herds, and it is common to see them off in the distance relaxing under a copse of trees or grazing in the marshy fields. Closer encounters occur frequently along the wildlife trails and beach road; here tourists with cameras will crowd around, snapping photos as the horses languidly amble about. Signs posted all over state that “Wild Ponies Bite and Kick,” but that doesn’t seem to stop anyone from sidling up to them. They are part of the landscape and culture of Assateague as well as Chincoteague, and they make this already fascinating area even more extraordinary.

The way it should be
As an adult, I still love to visit Assateague Island. Even though the nightlife is limited, and there are no boardwalks or flashy rides, a vacation here is what it should be: relaxing. There is no sense of hurry, no rush, no multilane highway packed full of cars ready to crowd the shore. It’s a shame to see how commercialized many beaches are becoming. But I guess we each have our own ideas as to how a vacation should be spent. Give me a view of the ocean in one direction, a dune full of sea grass in the other, and the possibility of ponies stomping up the shore. I want to enjoy the sun without a great big hotel looming over my shoulder. I can only hope that Assateague will always stay the way it is. —Jillian Hardee

Guest author Jillian Hardee is a graduate student at West Virginia University studying cognitive neuroscience.

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More Information about Assateague Island…

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