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Happiness and the Dragon King

By: David Edmonds
As so often, I’m with
King Wangchuck.  The former King of
Bhutan, the fourth ‘Dragon King’, coined the term, Gross National Happiness
(GNH).   Governments, he thought, should
aim to boost the nation’s well-being, rather than target Gross National Product
(GNP).   He used the phrase after his
coronation, an event which, unfortunately, his citizens couldn’t follow on the
box  – because, until a decade ago,  Bhutan didn’t have TV.   The erstwhile King appears a happy man
himself – which may, or may not, be connected to his being married to four

Once a country has
achieved a certain level of income per head, there is no straightforward
correlation between economic growth and happiness.  Professor Richard Layard, a Labour Peer,
sometimes called Britain’s happiness Tsar – puts the threshold at a little over
£10,000 – the amount at which basic needs can be satisfied.   Above that level nations can become richer
without necessarily becoming happier.

The point was
underlined to me last week in Latvia. 
Latvians regard themselves as a rather gloomy people, and at present
they have plenty to be gloomy about. 
Their economy is imploding.  It
will contract this year by a staggering 18%: unemployment is running at about
one-in-five.  Many Latvians are facing
stressful times – struggling to pay bills.

Yet their self-image
is at odds with reality.  Latvians are
darning clothes, growing their own vegetables, spending more time in the homes
of friends and relatives, helping each other muddle through the crisis.   They’re rediscovering old skills and being
forced by circumstance to be less individualistic.  And many seem, well…happy.  

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1 Comment on this post

  1. While happiness is worth pursuing, one can do it long-term and short term (just like wealth). Richer societies appear to be more resilient – they have more resources in the case of a disaster or emergent problems. Having a high current gross national happiness but not enough wealth to handle (say) climate change or the occasional food crisis might lead to significant happiness losses. Long-term stable happiness may require more than £10,000.

    I wonder if the dragon king would favor biomedical interventions improving his subjects biological happiness set points?

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