Showing posts with label GNH: Bhutan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label GNH: Bhutan. Show all posts

Friday, June 3, 2022

What makes Meghalaya an interesting place to visit?


It is worth visiting Meghalaya just to see waterfalls, such as Nohkhalikai falls, shown above. Located near Cherrapunji, this is tallest waterfall in India. Visitors are likely to be told the sad story of Ka Likai, after whom the falls were named. However, I will not spoil the experience for you by attempting to summarize the story here.

There was a cultural element to much of my sight-seeing in Meghalaya. That was certainly true of my visit to double-decker living root bridge at Nongriat, which I described in the preceding article on this blog as one of the highlights of my trip to India.

In this article I will further discuss my experience of sightseeing in Meghalaya, endeavoring to highlight cultural aspects. My focus is the east of Meghalaya, the part of the state I visited.

Area visited

This map might help those uncertain of the location of Meghalaya. The Indian state of Meghalaya is in India’s north-east, next to the Indian state of Assam, north of Bangladesh, and south of Bhutan.

Upon arrival at the airport in Guwahati (Assam) I was driven to Shillong, where I stayed for 2 nights. After a day of sightseeing to the east of Shillong, I visited a sacred forest on the way to Cherrapunji. I stayed in Cherrapunji for 3 nights, and saw many different things in that general area.

In what follows I will present a few photos to give some broad impressions before making some observations about culture and history of the Khasi people. 


Shillong is a busy place. This photo is of tourists and locals at the main shopping centre, called Police Bazar.

This photo shows a scene that is fairly typical of the people and countryside as seen from roads east of Shillong.

Hilltop cultivation seems fairly common in the east of Meghalaya.

Krang Suri Falls are located in the Jaintia Hills east of Shillong. This waterfall may not yet be on the main tourist circuit, but there were quite a few Indian tourists there when I visited.

We stopped off at the Mawphlang Sacred Forest on the way from Shillong to Cherrapunjee. The photo is of an old Australian being shown around the forest by a local guide.  

This is the place in the sacred forest where bulls were once sacrificed to appease the gods. Although bulls are no longer sacrificed, the forest is still treated with great reverence. Nothing is allowed to be removed from it.

The Church of the Epiphany at Mawlynnong was founded in 1902. This village has had a strong tradition of Christianity since Welsh missionaries came here in the 19th century. Mawlynnong has been declared the cleanest village in Asia. Locals link their cleanliness to Christianity, apparently taking to heart the idea that cleanliness is next to godliness.

This photo of people engaged in a dart throwing competition was taken along the road to Dawki (on the Bangladesh border). It reminded me of something similar that I saw a decade ago when I visited Bhutan.

Culture and history

The majority of people in the east of Meghalaya are Khasi. They speak a Mon-Khmer language -the indigenous language family of mainland Southeast Asia - and their ancestors are thought to have migrated from that part of the world.

The inclusion of Meghalaya, and other states of the north-east as part of India, may have more to do with the legacy of British colonialism than with historical links to India. From a Khasi perspective, the central government of India replaced the colonial government of the British. Khasi enjoy a measure of local political autonomy via councils which they elect.

English is an official language of Meghalaya and is widely spoken there. Local guides and hotel staff were all proficient English speakers.

Mr Dipankar - the guide who accompanied me in Meghalaya, spoke excellent English. The only communication problem I became aware of arose when he was not present. I had been invited to have a meal with Hermina Lakiang - a historian associated with the North-Eastern Hill University in Shillong - and had arranged for my driver, Mr Simitar, to take me to her home. I knew that the driver had poor English, but I was slow to understand why he was having difficulty following the verbal directions that the professor was giving him about the location of her home. I later learned that they didn’t have a language in common. The driver was from Guwahati, and had no knowledge of Khasi, and the professor had not advanced her knowledge of Hindi beyond the rudimentary level she had attained at school. There was no reason for her to become a proficient Hindi speaker.

I am most grateful to have had the opportunity to have Hermina Lakiang explain some aspects of the culture and history of the Khasi to me. My understanding was greatly improved as a result of our discussion. However, the views presented below are my own – and the improvement of my understanding of Khasi culture and history was based on little knowledge to begin with.

Khasi follow a matrilineal system of inheritance, with the youngest daughter eligible to inherit the ancestral property. The youngest daughter is apparently expected to learn from mistakes made by her elder siblings.

The majority of Khasi are now Christians, but their ancestors believed in a Supreme Being as well as other deities of water, mountains, and other natural objects.  

Christian missionaries were much less successful in other parts of India, where most people are adherents of Hinduism or Islam, or in neighboring countries where Buddhism prevails. So, how did the Khasi manage to avoid being conquered and converted to Hinduism, Islam, or Buddhism, before British colonial rule exposed them to Christianity?

The most obvious answer is that Khasi are located in hilly regions that were relatively easy to defend and not particularly attractive to potential invaders seeking land that was easy to cultivate.

However, as Sanjib Baruah points out in his book, In the Name of the Nation (2020, 29) the Khasi only became confined to the hills after confrontation with the British East India Company in 1789.

Edward Gait, a British colonial administrator, included a chapter on the “Jaintia Kings”, in his book entitled, A History of Assam, which was first published in 1906. (During the colonial era, the whole of the north-east region of India was referred to as Assam.)

Gait’s account suggests that the Jaintia kings ruled the Sylhet region (now in Bangladesh) from around 1500. These kings had Hindu names, but Gait suggests that the religion and culture of the people was never much influenced by Hinduism. He cites some evidence that matrilineal system of inheritance was still followed by the Jaintia royal family.

Concluding comments

In the light of the observation made earlier to the effect that the inclusion of Meghalaya in India was a legacy of British colonialism, it is worth mentioning that some colonial administrators had expressed fears of what might happen to the culture of the Khasi following transfer of power to Indian hands. Sanjib Baruah cites Robert Reid, a former governor of Assam, among those who had argued in the 1940s for continued British control of the “Hill Areas” on paternalistic grounds (29-30).

The experience of the last 70 years has demonstrated that the fears of British colonists of what might happen under Indian control were unwarranted. As Baruah notes, the colonial safeguards to protect the people in those areas were largely retained and placed under the supervision of elected bodies following decolonization.

The impression I gained from my short visit is that Khasi people are proud of their cultural heritage, and that many are eager to defend it.

Monday, February 8, 2016

How should researchers combine different aspects of happiness into a single measure?

A recent paper by Gus O’Donnell and Andrew Oswald considers the question of how to combine measures of different aspects of subjective well-being into a single overall measure.

The authors focused specifically on the four aspects of well-being measured in annual surveys by the UK Office of National Statistics. These are:
  • how satisfied you are with your life nowadays;
  • to what extent you feel that the things you do in your life are worthwhile;
  • how happy you felt yesterday; and
  • how anxious you felt yesterday.
All aspects are measured on an 11 point scale from 0 to 10.

The approach taken by O’Donnell and Oswald in their exploratory study implies that all aspects of happiness should be weighted according to their “social importance” as determined by the average weight given to them by citizens in opinion surveys. The specific method they employ involves asking people to allocate 100 points across the four measures. For example, if all four measures were considered to be equally important, 25% would be allocated to each measure.

This method of developing weights seems to me to be much better suited to combining well-being indicators such as those included in the OECD’s Better Life index (e.g. income, education, health, environment) than to combining survey data relating to different aspects of subjective well-being.

I feel uneasy about the method adopted because I don’t think individual citizens are equipped to make judgments about the “social importance” of the feelings of others. For example, the majority view about the “social importance” of feelings of anxiety might understate the impact of anxiety on the well-being of people who suffer from anxiety.

The authors have reported results from the use of their method of obtaining weights from four different samples: economics students, MBA students, professional economists, and a wider group of citizens chosen using web-based methods. All groups gave anxiety the lowest average weight, but apart from that there is not much common ground in the views of the different groups. The wider group of citizens gave happiness the greatest weight, but the other groups all gave life satisfaction the greatest weight. The economics and MBA students gave “doing worthwhile things” a much higher weight than happiness, but professional economists gave it about the same weight as happiness.

It seems to me that a better way to proceed would be to attempt to estimate the well-being of individuals by using weighting systems that individuals consider to be relevant to their own lives. There are potentially several ways to do that.

First, there is the approach adopted by Daniel Benjamin et al in their paper, “Beyond Happiness and Satisfaction”, discussed on this blog, in which people were asked to choose between hypothetical situations using different measures of happiness and a range of different ratings.

Another possible approach would to ask survey respondents questions along the following lines: “If you were offered an opportunity that would add a 1 point improvement in your feeling that the things you do in life are worthwhile, how much life satisfaction would you be willing to forgo in order to obtain that benefit?” When I ask myself that question the answer I obtained seemed to make sense, but my mind went blank when I ask myself how much life satisfaction I would be willing to forgo in order to obtain a 1 point increase in happiness. The same happened when I asked myself how much happiness I would be willing to forgo in order to obtain a 1 point increase in life satisfaction. So I can hardly recommend that approach!

The third approach is to simply ask survey respondents to allocate 100 points across the four measures according to the weight that they consider should give to the different measures in assessing changes over time in their own personal well-being. That approach has the virtue of being simple and directly related to estimation of relevant weights.

In order to obtain an accurate overall impression of subjective well-being at a national level it is important to know to what extent the weights that individuals consider to be relevant to assessment of their own personal well-being vary according to the circumstances of their lives.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Why don't we see a close relationship between low negative emotion and high positive emotion?

Think about how you felt yesterday. Did you feel much pain, worry, sadness, stress or anger? If you felt less of those negative emotions than the world average, then do you think it would be reasonable to predict that your experience of positive emotions might be higher than the world average? The relevant positive experiences are smiling and laughing a lot, feeling enjoyment, well-rested and treated with respect, and learning or doing something interesting.

Apparently that prediction is not as reasonable as I thought it would be. People in countries where average levels of negative emotion are relatively low do not necessarily have relatively high average levels of positive emotion. This is apparent in the Figure below which has been drawn from data from recent polls conducted by the Gallup organisation.

The Figure does show an inverse correlation between positive and negative emotion, but most of the action is at the upper end of negative emotion. It seems to be much less common for people with high negative emotion to also experience high positive emotion than it is for people who experience low negative emotion to also experience low positive emotion.

Interestingly, the chart also shows that the average of positive emotion for people in Bhutan - the home of Gross National Happiness (GNH) - is low by comparison with both of its giant neighbours, China and India. Gallup has suggested that Bhutan’s low score on positive emotion is attributable to the fact that the percentage of the population who feel that they are treated with a “great deal of respect” was the lowest for all countries included in the 2013 survey. Perhaps this reflects the restrictions on individual liberty imposed by the government in pursuit of its GNH objective. It is also possible that the GNH objective gives participants in happiness surveys an incentive to use their responses to tell the government that they are not happy with its performance. 
However, the main point I want to make concerns the salient characteristics of the countries which combine low negative emotion with low positive emotion or unusually high positive emotion. Most of the countries in the first category were formerly members of the Soviet Union (shown with red diamonds). By contrast, most Latin American countries (shown with purple diamonds) have unusually high positive emotion scores.

The most likely explanation of the different emotional experiences of people in the former Soviet Union and Latin America is the development of shared frames of mind (cultural framing). Sonja Lyubomirsky has observed that expressions of happiness or success in Russia are often perceived as inviting envy, resentment, and suspicion, at least partly because there is a cultural belief in Russia that anyone who is happy or successful might have used immoral means for achieving these states. (Reported in a recent article on happiness aversion by Mohsen Joshanloo and Dan Weijers). I guess such beliefs could have been reinforced by living under communism and the regimes that have followed the fall of communism. It is also possible that negative emotions would be understated in a culture where people had incentives to adopt a “must not complain” attitude to life.

With regard to Latin America, Jon Clifton, the author of the report of the Gallup survey suggests:
That so many people are reporting positive emotions in Latin America at least partly reflects the cultural tendency in the region to focus on the positives in life”.

There is evidence (for example in a report by Eduardo Loro) that when people in Latin America are asked about their health, they tend to report a higher level of satisfaction than is warranted, given objective indicators of their health status.

The existence of such a cultural bias does not mean that the high positive emotion reported for Latin America is not genuinely felt. Research by Mohsen Joshanloo provides some evidence of lower happiness aversion in Latin America than in many other parts of the world. It seems reasonable to predict that the high positive emotion in Latin America would provide health benefits e.g. lower rates of hypertension, as in other parts of the world (see research by David Blanchflower and Andrew Oswald). Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find studies that control for the relevant variables to confirm whether that is the case. There are studies suggesting that rates of hypertension are relatively high in some Latin American countries, but that seems to be attributable to obesity and other risk factors.  

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

How should virtue ethics be applied in the pursuit of happiness?

Jeffrey Sachs has described his essay, ‘Restoring Virtue Ethics in the Quest for Happiness’ as highly speculative. That description is apt in my view, even though the idea of restoring virtue ethics does deserve serious consideration. (The essay was published recently as Chapter 5 in the World Happiness Report 2013.)

Jeff begins by establishing that before the modern era, virtue and happiness were seen to be inextricably intertwined. Happiness was seen to be achieved by harnessing the will and the passions to live the right kind of life. He goes on to argue that, over several centuries, virtue ethics has largely been replaced by utilitarian considerations, resulting in greater hedonism and consumerism.

I agree that people have come to think of happiness as being largely about feelings – about pain and pleasure, or positive affect and negative affect, rather than about tranquility, equanimity or spirituality. And, for many people, the pleasure of immediate consumption seems to have encroached upon the virtue of prudence.

Jeff takes this argument much further. He suggests that in the early decades of the 20th Century (the Roaring 20s) ‘America slid into an ethos of ‘hyper-commercialism, untethered by ethical, religious, or philosophical constraints’. He suggests that since then the prevailing ethos has been that happiness ‘was more and more to be found in personal wealth, pure and simple’. He follows Wilhelm Ropke in suggesting that the ubiquity of advertising and the other ‘dark arts of persuasion’ are undermining social values and ethics. He also shares Ropke’s concerns that financial innovations are undermining the fragile restraints that induce households to save for the future.

Jeff argues that hyper-commercialism is the dominant ethos in the United States today. He also claims:
‘Hyper-commercialism has failed to lift average US happiness for more than half a century, even as per capita income has tripled. In Figure 2.3 of this report, the US ranks just 17th in happiness, though it has a higher income per capita than the 16 countries ahead of it, with the exception of Norway’.

However, I don’t think Jeff has established that hyper-commercialism is the dominant US ethos. It seems to me that what Jeff describes as ‘hyper-commercialism’ is normally referred to in less inflammatory terms as ‘materialism’ - a preoccupation with or emphasis on material objects, comforts and considerations at the expense of spiritual, intellectual, or cultural values. Whereas hyper-commercialism is linked exclusively to commercialism, materialism could have a number of different causes. Businesses certainly try to tempt people to buy the things they sell, but they were not alone in encouraging materialism. The 20th Century was also prime time for industrial and political movements which promoted materialism by encouraging people to agitate for improvement in the material conditions of their lives. Practitioners of the politics of envy have been active in America in encouraging people to become discontented, even though they have been less successful than in some other parts of the world.

The idea that materialism has become dominant seems to me to understate the ongoing influence of ethical constraints and non-commercial values in the United States. Views about anti-social behaviour have moved in favour of greater government regulation, and opportunistic and untrustworthy behaviour is widely discouraged. Moralists and even some entertainers preached against materialism during the 20th Century, as in earlier periods. Their view has gained impetus in recent years as scientific evidence has emerged that people whose main goal in life is to become wealthy tend to become unhappy if they fail to attain that goal.

Jeff also seems to have overlooked the possibility that people might have chosen to become more materialistic in their outlook even in the absence of urging by commercial and political interests. Is it not possible that we have come to want the material objects that make our lives more comfortable and provide us with better travel and communication possibilities as they have come into existence and as we have come to learn how they can improve our lives? My casual observations suggest that it is possible. For example, when I visited Bhutan it seemed obvious to me that many of the people who live there still want access to the material objects of the modern world, even though they have been exposed to little advertising.

The evidence that Jeff cites of no increase in average happiness in the US for more than half a century is contradicted by evidence from the Pew Research Center and the Gallup Organisation that since 1964 the proportion of Americans saying that their life today is better off than five years ago has generally far exceeded the proportion saying that their life today is worse than five years ago. It seems to me that the latter surveys are more reliable because they require respondents to evaluate their current and past lives on a directly comparable basis.

The point that Jeff makes about average happiness in the US ranking below that of some countries with lower incomes invites an inspection of the reasons why the US ranking is lower, to see whether they provide support for speculations about hyper-commercialism. I don’t see any obvious evidence in support of Jeff’s speculations in Figure 2.3 (to which he refers in the passage quoted above). Perceived levels of social support and generosity are comparable to those in the highest ranking countries. The Figure suggests that the areas in which the US performs more poorly than the highest ranking countries are perceptions of corruption and freedom to make life choices – which are not linked in obvious ways to hyper-commercialism. Further research is required to understand why people in the US perceive corruption to be high and their freedom to be restricted.

It is fairly clear from what I have written that I disagree with a fair amount of the reasoning by which Jeff comes to the view that virtue ethics should play a larger role in the quest for happiness. Nevertheless, I agree with him that we should be seeking some kind of ethical consensus as a guide to public policy. In Free to Flourish (and on this blog) I have suggested that the concept of a good society – a society that is good for the people who live in it – could be a useful focus for thinking about this issue. I have suggested that there would be widespread agreement that a good society would have three important characteristics:
·         a set of institutions that enable its members to live together in peace;  
·         widespread opportunities for its members to live long and healthy lives, and to pursue their economic, educational, cultural goals; and
·         a degree of security against misfortunes such as accidents, ill-health, unemployment and environmental disasters. 

Finally, I agree with Jeffrey Sachs’ suggestion that more attention should be given to monitoring individual norms regarding honesty, trust and other aspects of virtue ethics. The state of the social fabric is clearly of fundamental importance to the pursuit of happiness.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

What is life like for a Bhutanese asylum seeker living in Germany?

A few days ago Hemlal Mainaly, a Bhutanese asylum seeker living in Germany, offered to provide information for my blog about the problems he has encountered. I decided to interview Hemlal because of my interest in Bhutan. However, his responses remind me that whatever problems people like Hemlal may pose for the governments of countries in which they seek asylum, they are seeking opportunities for happiness that most other people take for granted.

An edited version of the interview follows:

Hemlal, would you please introduce yourself to readers of Freedom and Flourishing?
I am a 33year old single male, currently living in Germany at Hodenhagen. I have studied applied science, and have obtained a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc) from Tribhwan University, Kathmabdu Nepal.
I am the youngest member of my family. My parents, both age 67 years, have been living in the US at Syracuse, NY since 2010 under a UNHCR resettlement program. I have 5 sisters, four of whom have also been living in the US. My brother, travelled to the Netherlands in 2005 and his political claims were recognized immediately by the Netherlands authorities. He obtained Netherlands citizenship through naturalization in 2011.

Why did you leave Bhutan?
The government of Bhutan confiscated my immovable properties and terminated the nationality of my parents at gun point. It accused us of involvement in the democratic and peaceful protest that took place in 1990 in Bhutan. The royal authorities declared us traitors and at forced us to sign the ‘’voluntary’’ emigration form.
I left Bhutan in 1991 when I was just 12. We migrated to Nepal and lived at the Bhutanese Refugee Camp at Beldangi 2, aided by UNHCR.

How did you come to live in Germany?
The failure of 16 rounds of bilateral negotiations between the governments of Nepal and Bhutan to resolve the refugee problem left no hope of dignified repatriation of refugees to Bhutan. The degree of frustration among young refugees increased and the security situation became fragile. Insurgent groups formed within the refugee communities aiming to begin armed revolution to Bhutan. The position of those opposed to such groups became insecure as refugees started killing each other in an astonishing way.
Meanwhile, third countries had developed proposals to resolve the Bhutanese refugee problem by offering voluntary resettlement. The resettlement proposals added butter on the fire in the refugee communities. The communities divided, one side accepting resettlement while the other maintaining that dignified repatriation was the only the solution.

I campaigned for third country resettlement for a long time while living at Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. As a result, threats were made on my life and I was not able to go back to the refugee camp. I escaped to Germany in 2007 for my own safety. I had to leave Nepal to protect my life.

What have you been doing since you went to Germany?
Since the beginning of 2007, I have been doing absolutely nothing. My political asylum petitions have been refused by the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees and by the Federal Court for irrelevant and incredible reasons. The German authorities accused me of leaving Bhutan voluntarily. They claim that Bhutanese who were expelled following the 1990 protests are not political refugees.

Currently, I have a short residency permit  for the period of six months issued in November 2012.This is something like temporary toleration and valid  as long as the authorities are not able to get travel documents for my deportation to Bhutan . The Bhutanese Embassy at Brussels has apparently not responded to inquiries from the aliens authority.
I have no travel documents, but I am not able to take an integration course. My residency permit does not give me the right to leave German territory. I do not even have the right to visit the Netherlands to see my brother.

Do you consider conditions for asylum seekers in Germany are better or worse than in other countries?
To be very honest, on the basis of my suffering in Germany for last seven years, I caution refugees around the globe please never to step into Germany seeking protection. This is the worst place for refugees and asylum seekers. In the name of giving protection, this jurisdiction destroys the lives of thousands of refugees. They suppress people mentally and paralyse them.

Many resettled Bhutanese refugees have told me that the conditions of life for asylum seekers in other EU states are far better than in Germany, and conditions for asylum seekers in Australia, Canada and the US are also better than here. I would like to express heartfelt thanks to the US government for resettling over 70 thousand Bhutanese refugees at a time when it has been struggling to cope with economics crises. The Bhutanese refugee community will remember this act of kindness for all time.

What are your hopes for future?
I have tried all possible ways to obtain refugee status, but without success. I feel hopeless, helpless and paralysed. My future seems very gloomy, terrible and pathetic. I do not know what will happen from one day to the next.  I have no future prospect in Germany. I would request assistance from all the third countries who have been resettling the Bhutanese refugees.

I also request the diplomatic missions of USA, Australia and all core groups states to pressure the German authorities to open their eyes to the suffering of refugees. There is too much suffering. Enough is enough!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Is the 'trial narrative' integral to emergence of the modern view of happiness?

‘Our own concept of happiness is, in its essentials, the eighteenth-century concept that emerges after the trial narrative has wrought its effects on the classical idea’
-                                                                       Vivasvan Soni, ‘Mourning Happiness’ (2010).

Mourning Happiness
 Soni argues that happiness has come to be viewed as ‘a mere emotion or subjective state’ and that this view of happiness is ‘hopelessly and inescapably private’. He contrasts that with the classical view in which happiness was ‘held to be the highest good for an individual, almost without question’.

The author argues that the trial narrative, referred to in the quoted passage, was introduced by Samuel Richardson’s novel, ‘Pamela: Or Virtue Rewarded’, first published in 1740. The novel tells the story of Pamela, a young servant girl, who resists harassment by her sexually predatory master until he comes to recognize her virtue and marries her. It is appropriate to describe it as a trial narrative because it involves the trial of the virtue of an innocent girl who suffers a great deal of misery and eventually obtains happiness (so readers are told) through an elevation in social status (brought about by marriage to the man who almost raped her). There are similar narrative themes in other novels in this period. I suppose a novelist could tell a similar story in the modern world, but the reward for virtue would more likely come in the form of an out-of-court settlement of a large sum of money.

How could our modern concept of happiness emerge from the trial narrative? Soni’s answer is ‘reification’. The main point he is making is that when happiness is viewed as a reward it becomes identified with specific things such as positive feelings, wealth and marriage, rather than being the subject of a narrative which responds to the question of whether an individual has had a happy life (without specifying in advance what that might mean). The author spends a few hundred pages explaining this, so please don’t rush to judgement about the quality of the argument on the basis of my attempt to sum it up in a few words.

The general line of argument seems to me to be plausible. Trial narratives might not have been invented in the 18th century, but the author seems to be successful in establishing that they became common around that time. His explanation for reification of happiness makes sense. 

However, there is an alternative, less complex, explanation for reification of happiness. With advances in science and technology and the spread of education following the Enlightenment it is reasonable to expect that people in Europe would generally have tended to became more aware of the consequences of the choices that they were making in all aspects of their lives.

The author seems to me to draw a long bow when he attributes the choices that some people currently make, for example the choice to work longer or harder now in order to obtain greater happiness later in their lives, to the power of the trial narrative in modern thinking. People may see themselves as making sacrifices now in order to obtain greater rewards later, but that is no reason to question their capacity for self-direction by implying that they are subconsciously following some kind of script which requires them to undergo a trial of their virtue.

The author attempts to link the trial narrative to Immanuel Kant’s argument that ‘the sovereign who wants to make the people happy according to his concepts’ is likely to become a despot. Surely Kant’s argument that people differ in their thinking about happiness to such an extent that it cannot be ‘brought under any common principle’ deserves to be considered on its merits. If pursuit of happiness is viewed as a collective goal, rather than an individual right, is there not a real possibility that collective efforts to make individuals happy will end up making them miserable?

I found Soni’s discussion of what he describes as ‘the erasing’ of the political concept of happiness during and following the American revolution to be interesting and illuminating. However, I don’t think he is correct in his view of the consequences of failure to include collective pursuit of happiness via government as an explicit goal in the US Constitution. He suggests that ‘without the open and indeterminate horizon of happiness to guide our politics, the state of legitimacy in which we live can have no other purpose beyond maintaining itself’ (p 479). That seems to me to devalue the intended role of the state in defending the rights of citizens to pursue happiness as they see fit and the contribution of civil society to the pursuit of public happiness. And I doubt whether he is correct in implying that Jefferson, the main author of the Declaration of Independence, saw individual pursuit of happiness as a purely private and domestic matter. It seems likely, as suggested by Darrin McMahon (‘Happiness’, p 325-6), that Jefferson's view of the individual pursuit of happiness included a strong dose of doing publicly useful things. McMahon notes that Jefferson was familiar with the work of Francis Hutcheson who argued that people tend to obtain ‘private pleasure’ by ‘constant pursuit of publick Good’.

It is interesting to speculate what effect the inclusion of a goal of pursuit of collective happiness in political constitutions might actually have on public policies. Bhutan’s experiment with gross national happiness (GNH) suggests to me that it would be likely to result in further reification of happiness. Applying a national happiness yardstick to all aspects of public policy tends to make the happiness objective more specific. Pursuit of GNH seems to be evolving increasingly toward specific policies such as discouraging smoking and encouraging organic farming. The niggling concern, lurking at the back of my mind, is that pursuit of GNH could actually impact negatively on the ability of individuals to live happy lives. Sending people to jail for possessing tobacco products or pesticides seems to me to be unlikely to help them to live happy lives.

Finally, I don’t think our modern view of happiness is quite as shallow as Soni implies. While it is common to view happiness as purely an emotion, when you ask people whether they have had a happy life the response you are likely to get is a narrative – a story of flourishing or languishing, or more likely periods of both flourishing and languishing. I am reminded at this point of the findings of Dan McAdams’ narrative research (discussed briefly on this blog here and here) which suggests that the life stories of many people involve redemption themes. In these stories the narrator encounters many obstacles and suffers many setbacks but eventually develops toward actualization of an inner destiny.

Having read and thought about ‘Mourning Happiness’ I admire the ambitious attempt made in this book to identify the dominant narrative theme in our modern lives. In the end, however, I am not persuaded that the dominant narrative themes in our modern lives stem from Richardson’s ‘Pamela’ and similar 18th century novels. Perhaps it might be just as valid to argue that the dominant narrative themes in our modern lives stem from Homer’s ‘Odyssey’or the biblical story of Job. I suspect it might be an impossible task to identify the different themes in mutually exclusive ways and to disentangle their influence from other factors that impact on on the way we currently view happiness.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

What fantasies are associated with the modern pursuit of happiness?

A draft of the final chapter of ‘Free to Flourish’, the book I am writing, has just been uploaded to the book’s web site.

My aim in this chapter has been to draw together the threads from earlier chapters by identifying fantasies related to the issues discussed.

My list of fantasies:
  • Happiness is just about experiences.
  • Paternalistic governments can help us flourish.
  • Restrictions on freedom help people to flourish.
  • Governments should be seeking to maximize collective happiness.
  • No society is better than any other.
  • Progress is history.
  • Democratic governments can’t fail.

It is tempting to try to summarize why I think the listed points are fantaasies, but anyone who is interested can easily follow this link and take a look at the draft of ‘Chapter 9: The Choice – Fantasy or Opportunity’.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What is the 'World Happiness Report'?

World Happiness ReportThe release of the UN’s ‘World Happiness Report’, edited (and to a large extent authored) by John Helliwell, Richard Layard and Jeffrey Sachs, does not seem to have captured much media attention. I became aware of it only while looking for reports of the meeting on ‘Happiness and Well-being:  Defining a New Economic Paradigm’, which was held in New York early this month. My interest stems from my attendance at a preliminary meeting in Bhutan last year. I still don’t have much idea what happened in New York, but the ‘World Happiness Report’ deserves consideration.

The mainstream media apparently didn’t consider the ‘World Happiness Report’ to be particularly newsworthy. That is presumably because it doesn’t contain much information that is new. It is not news that people in wealthy countries tend to be happier than people in poor countries. It is not news that average levels of happiness are still fairly low in China despite substantial gains in income levels over the last couple of decades. (That makes it difficult for me to understand reports that the Chinese government has apparently made it difficult for people in China to obtain the report via the internet.)
The report consists of an introduction by Jeff Sachs and chapters on the state of world happiness, the causes of happiness and misery, and policy implications. The report also contains three case studies – one on measurement of Gross National Happiness in Bhutan, one on the work of the ONS in Britain and the other OECD proposals for measurement of subjective well-being.

The introduction sets the scene by arguing that the quest for happiness should be seen to be intimately linked to the quest for sustainable development.  The author seems particularly concerned that economic growth will ‘undermine the Earth’s life support systems’: ‘In years or decades, conditions for life ‘may become dire in several fragile regions of the world.’ He is also concerned that economic growth is not making people happier: countries ‘achieve great progress in economic development as conventionally measured; yet along the way succumb to a new crisis of obesity, smoking, diabetes depression and the other ills of modern life’. He suggests that we can ‘protect the Earth while raising quality of life’ if we adopt ‘lifestyles and technologies that improve happiness (or life satisfaction) while reducing human damage to the environment.’

In my view the picture painted in the introduction is exaggerated, in terms of both impacts of economic growth on the environment and human happiness. In broad terms, the regions where conditions for life are under threat are suffering from lack of economic growth, rather than too much of it. The regions where happiness levels are highest have had greatest economic growth.

It is tempting to dismiss the introduction as alarmist nonsense.  It provokes in me the same feelings as I get when religious fanatics try to tell me that the end of the world is nigh. Yet, I readily acknowledge that some aspects of human activity are impacting adversely on the environment and that many people who have the benefits of living in high-income countries do not make good use of the opportunities that modern life offers to them. My point is that the introduction is unlikely to persuade many people that the measurement of happiness is worth considering seriously.

The introduction raises in my mind the question of how measurement of happiness will induce people to change their lifestyles in ways that reduce environmental damage. Will this occur through a spontaneous change in culture or are we about to see a new wave of central planning to regulate individual lifestyles? Perhaps happiness research will provide evidence that individuals with a small environmental footprint tend to be happier, other things being equal. Such evidence might induce larger numbers of people to make substantial lifestyle changes spontaneously.  I would not be surprised to see such evidence emerge, but the possibility of obtaining it doesn’t seem to be discussed in this report.

I think there is reason to be concerned that we are about to see a new wave of central planning of individual lifestyles, linked to happiness measurement. I am not referring here to limited action by governments to change relative prices in order to reduce specific negative spillovers associated with economic growth e.g. through carbon taxes or trading schemes. My concern is about the manipulation of the tax and regulatory system in ways designed to counter any aspirations that people might have that are not immediately reflected in happiness or life satisfaction. The author of the introduction fuels my concerns by objecting to the view that ‘happiness is in the eye of the beholder, an individual’s choice, something to be pursued individually rather than a matter of national policy’. There are plenty of political players in most countries, who will be only too eager to use this report to support their efforts to try to make people happier by regulating their lives.

Will these government planners be successful in their efforts to use happiness data to make people happier? It seems to me that there are parallels here with the use of GDP in economic planning. Half a century ago economic planners had great hopes that national income measurement - then being standardized with United Nations involvement – would help them in their efforts to lift economic growth rates. The UN’s 1969 Declaration on Social Progress and Development (discussed on this blog a few weeks ago) must have provided economic planners with great comfort by supporting their efforts to raise GDP through economic planning.  In the end, GDP measurement has helped to show that the efforts of the economic planners were counter-productive. I would not be surprised if social planning to raise happiness levels eventually meets a similar fate.

Planners are faced with the challenge of evidence that individual freedom is important to life satisfaction.  On that basis, it seems reasonable to predict that people will tend to become increasingly discontented as social planners intensify their efforts to make them happier.

Unfortunately, the introduction to the report has side-tracked me from considering the main content. People who might be interested in my views on the other chapters have probably stopped reading already. In case anyone is still reading, however, I will add some brief comments.

For the most part, the report equates ‘happiness’ with subjective well-being. It focuses on subjective well-being measures based on questions about happiness and life satisfaction. The authors seem to have in mind that those two questions should form the basis of happiness measurement systems. (The Bhutan case study is an exception. Objective measures of well-being are included in the measurement of GNH in Bhutan along with subjective measures.)

The report contains interesting information on the distribution of happiness in different countries as well as on average levels of happiness. The information on the distribution of happiness suggests to me that great caution is required in interpreting average happiness levels (whether mean, median or mode) as indicators of national happiness. This is particularly so in Latin American and African countries where inequality of happiness is relatively high.

The focus of the report on subjective well-being seems to me to be a weakness, despite its recognition that happiness measurement is part of a larger effort to understand well-being. This weakness is particularly evident when the report comes to making suggestions about policy priorities. It is apparent in that section that the authors were unable to confine themselves to findings arising from subjective well-being research. For example, the report states that a decent education for all is essential. Few would argue with that, but the research findings reported suggest that education makes a contribution to life satisfaction only through its effects on income.

In my view the methodology for measuring well-being should recognize all the factors that people consider to impinge on the opportunities available to them to live the kinds of lives they want to live. It seems likely that many people would consider education to affect those opportunities in ways that are not accounted for by either income or life satisfaction. Similarly, are other factors that contribute to the opportunities for people to live the lives they want to live, including health and the state of the environment, are probably not adequately accounted for by measures of subjective well-being.

Jim Belshaw has made the additional point, in the comments below and on his blog, that when you measure something there is a great temptation to focus on improving 'performance' as measured. Extending this reasoning, if happiness measures focus on contentment one might therefore expect government policies to focus to a greater extent on making people feel content - for example, by viewing ambition as a mental health problem and making medications freely available to treat it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

How does the United Nations view social progress?

I have previously expressed the view on this blog that if progress is to have any meaning from a public policy perspective it must mean movement toward a good society or movement from a good society to a better society. The improvement of society can, of course, be referred to as ‘social progress’.

When I did an internet search on ‘social progress’, the second item listed was the United Nations Declaration on Social Progress and Development adopted in 1969. This Declaration stands in stark contrast to the resolution sponsored by Bhutan and adopted in July last year calling on Member States ‘to pursue public policy steps that would better capture the importance of pursuing happiness and well-being in development’.
As might be expected, the 1969 UN declaration begins by asserting the value of humans and the rights of everyone to enjoy the fruits of social progress. Without attempting to define social progress it then goes on to assert that social progress requires the ‘full utilization of human resources’ and giving everyone the ‘right to work’. The declaration then proclaims the importance of economic growth to social progress:
‘The rapid expansion of national income and wealth and their equitable distribution among all members of society are fundamental to all social progress, and they should therefore be in the forefront of the preoccupations of every State and Government’.

I guess the authors were trying to make the point that growth in productivity and technological progress are central to meeting the aspirations of people to improve their living standards. In the preamble to ‘Part II Objectives’ it is asserted that ‘progress and development shall aim at the continuous raising of the material and spiritual standards of living of all members of society’. The recognition of spiritual needs is interesting, but the authors gave no hint of what they meant by ‘spiritual standards of living’. Considered as a whole, the document has the appearance of having been drafted by economic planners to foster greater recognition of their own importance.

Perhaps I should view the UN Declaration on Social Progress as a product of its times and be glad that the UN has moved on. I can’t help feeling, however, that the wording of the document is particularly crass, even given views that were prevalent at the time the document was written.

If the authors had wanted to emphasize the aspirations that people have for improvement of their material living standards it would not have been hard for them to come up with an appropriate definition of social progress in those terms. For example, they could have written a definition, along the lines I have drafted below, based on words used by Ludwig von Mises, leader of the Austrian School of economic thought, in his book ‘Theory and History’, which was published in 1957:
Most humans want to live and to prolong their lives; they want to be healthy and to avoid sickness; they want to live comfortably and not to exist on the verge of starvation. Advance toward these goals means progress, the reverse means retrogression.

If the authors had set their sights a little higher they might even have been able to benefit from the thoughts of another famous Austrian economist, Friedrich Hayek:
‘In one sense, civilization is progress and progress is civilization. The preservation of the kind of civilization that we know depends on the operation of forces which, under favourable conditions, produce progress. If it is true that evolution does not always lead to better things, it is also true that without the forces which produce it, civilization and all we value – indeed almost all that distinguishes man from beast – would neither exist nor could long be maintained’ (‘Constitution of Liberty’, 1960, 39-40).

Hayek saw progress as a process of learning, the cumulative growth of knowledge which when achieved becomes available for the benefit of all. He wrote:
‘It is through this free gift of the knowledge acquired by the experiments of some members of society that general progress is made possible, that the achievements of those who have gone before facilitate the advance of those who follow’ (p 43).

Monday, February 27, 2012

Do comparative statements about 'national happiness' imply views about the characteristics of a good society?

Yes! I explain why in the draft of Chapter 5 of the book I am writing. This chapter is now available on the book’s web site.

The question of whether measurement of ‘national happiness’ implies views about the good society is not just an arcane topic of academic interest. International agencies such as the UN and OECD and some governments have shown dissatisfaction with use of GDP as a well-being measure and an increasing interest in measuring national well-being more directly. Some of this interest in well-being measurement is motivated by helping individuals to make better choices, but the hope is often expressed that such measurements will assist governments to make better public policy choices and even to pursue national happiness as an over-riding policy objective.
Some researchers have suggested that that average life satisfaction is the strongest candidate as a measure of societal well-being because it is a single number that can be collected directly through surveys without ‘arbitrary weighting’.  (For example, see: Jon Hall et al, ‘Cutting through the Clutter: Searching for an Over-Arching Measure of Well-Being’, Journal of Institutional Comparisons, 8(4)2010.)

After reading the draft of Chapter 5 I hope everyone will agree with me that it is fanciful to view average life satisfaction as a measure of national happiness that does not involve arbitrary weighting. Perhaps it might be helpful if I provide a brief outline of the argument here to help readers decide whether or not to read the draft chapter.

It is possible, of course, to conduct surveys asking people in different countries how satisfied with life they are on a scale of 1 to 10 and then to average the results obtained for each country. The issue is whether it is appropriate to view such averages as measures of ‘national happiness’.

When people refer to such averages as measures of national happiness they are implying that national happiness rises to the same extent if a person’s life satisfaction rating rises from 9 to 10 as if some other person’s rating rises from 1 to 2. Individual researchers can make such claims if they wish, but they cannot claim that they are value free. I don’t think that they could even claim that such a view of ‘national happiness’ reflects values that are widely shared.

The need for value judgements is usually more transparent when composite indicators are used to make assessments of national happiness.
Whatever method is used, it seems to me that when researchers make comparative statements about levels of national happiness they are making implicit claims about the extent to which different countries have characteristics that a good society might be expected to have. So, why not consider directly what characteristics ‘good societies’ should have and make comparative assessments on that basis?

I suggest that there would be widespread support for the view that good societies are characterized by peacefulness, extensive opportunities for individual flourishing and a degree of economic security. The indicators used to measure the extent to which different countries have those characteristics show a similar ranking of countries to that provided by the OECD’s ‘Better Life’ index and the UN’s Human Development Index. The main advantage of using the ‘good society’ framework is in focusing explicitly on a consideration of the characteristics of good societies.

In my view, a focus on the characteristics of good societies is particularly appropriate from a public policy perspective because it tends to concentrate attention on matters that are within the domain of public policy. By contrast, when governments adopt ‘national happiness’ as an over-riding objective they are blurring the distinction between public and individual responsibilities.

I would be grateful for any comments on Chapter 5, or on any of the other chapters.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Does GNH measure progress towards a better society?

In my last post, ‘Can happiness be aggregated?’, I suggested that any statement about aggregate happiness or gross national happiness (GNH) involves judgements – explicit or implicit – about the characteristics of a good society.

I used the example of Mary, who is flourishing at level 9, and Jane, who is just surviving at level 1, and asked whether their combined level of flourishing is equivalent to that of two other people who are flourishing at level 5 ( i.e. (9+1)/2).  I suggested that you may feel that combining the ratings of different individuals together should involve value judgements rather than just arithmetic. I argued that if we introduce value weights into the process of aggregating the flourishing of different individuals, we are making a judgement about the extent to which the distribution of flourishing is consistent with our views about characteristics of a good society. 

I think the issues raised by the example of Mary and Jane can be brought into sharper focus if we consider whether aggregate flourishing increases to the same extent if Mary’s level of flourishing rises from 9 to 10 as when Jane’s level of flourishing rises from 1 to 2. I think most people would feel that Jane’s increased flourishing should receive more weight than Mary’s in the assessment of aggregate happiness. As argued above, the assignment of relative weights involves a value judgement. Different people can be expected to have different opinions about this matter.

The people responsible for the GNH survey in Bhutan have taken the position that ‘beyond a certain point, we don’t need to keep adding in higher achievements to the quality of life mechanically’. Their methodology would not count the increase in Mary’s level of flourishing as making any contribution to GNH on the grounds that it is appropriate to confine attention to ‘a middle band of achievements that contribute significantly to human wellbeing for most people’. I am not sure whether these implicit weightings reflect a consensus of the people of Bhutan, but in any case the weightings in the GNH index have validity as an expression of the values of the elected government.

The way I see it, Bhutan’s GNH index is the method that the government of Bhutan has chosen to measure progress toward a better society.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Can happiness be aggregated?

My starting point for this post is take it as given that everyone agrees that for public policy purposes it is appropriate to view happiness in terms of individual flourishing. My reasons for this view have been presented in the draft of chapter 2 of the book that I have been writing.

I doubt whether it is possible to obtain an accurate measure of the extent to which each individual in the community is flourishing because some of the subjective information involved is probably not accessible to people conducting surveys. But let us assume that we have a measure that is good enough to compare the extent to which different people are flourishing in terms of a rating scale from 1 to 10, with a rating of 1 indicating that the individual is just surviving and a rating of 10 indicating that the individual is fully flourishing.

The measurement system that I am assuming would enable us to determine the percentage of people at different levels of flourishing within a particular community. If other communities adopted the same measurement system we could make observations about the percentage of people who are flourishing in different communities. It might be possible to say, for example, that 50 per cent of the population in community A are flourishing at a moderate level (with a rating of 7 or above) whereas the corresponding percentage in community B is only 40 per cent. There could be considerable interest in such observations, particularly if they enabled comparisons to be made between countries and over time.

Would such a measurement system enable us to say that the aggregate or average level of flourishing is higher in one country than another? I don't think so. For example if you are told that 50% of the population is flourishing in country A and 40% is flourishing in country B, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the average level of flourishing is higher in A than B. It is possible that 20% are struggling for survival in country A while only 5% are struggling for survival in country B. The average (mean) calculated from the percentages flourishing at each level might indicate that the level of flourishing is higher in B than in A. In this instance, is the mean a better measure of the 'average' than the median?

There is also a more fundamental problem. Let us assume that Mary is flourishing at level 9 and Jane is just surviving at level 1. Is their combined level of flourishing equivalent to that of two other people who are flourishing at level 5 ( i.e (9+1)/2) ? I don’t think so. It seems to me that, other things equal, it is preferable to have two people flourishing at level 5 than to have one person at level 1 and the other at level 9. But that judgement reflects my own values and is not related to the preferences of the people most directly concerned? We should ask Mary and Jane what they think. But their views might differ. Perhaps we could ask a random sample of the population what they think, or conduct experiments to find out what choices most people might make behind a veil of ignorance. (I have in mind the kind of experiment conducted by Hörisch Hannah, which I described in an earlier post.)

The point I am getting to is that even if you can conceive of ratings corresponding to different levels of flourishing, you may have good reasons to feel that combining the ratings of different individuals together should involve value judgements rather than just arithmetic. You may not be comfortable in thinking of the combined level of flourishing of Mary and Jane as though these individuals are just metric stations.

However, if we introduce value weights into the process of aggregating the flourishing of different individuals, are we not then making a judgement about the extent to which the distribution of flourishing is consistent with our views about the characteristics of a good society? It seems to me that any statement about aggregate happiness or gross national happiness involves judgements – explicit or implicit – about the characteristics of a good society.

So, why not ask directly whether society A is better than B, rather than asking whether aggregate happiness is greater in A than B? This would mean attempting to achieve consensus on the characteristics of a good society. I presented some thoughts about this in a post a couple of years ago.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Will Bhutan succeed?

Some readers will know exactly what I mean by this question. Others may be wondering: Where is Bhutan? What does he mean by success? And why should we care?

Bhutan is a small country which has not had much exposure to the modern world. The first roads were built in the 1960s and TV was only introduced in 1999. It is located at the eastern end of the Himalayas, sandwiched between India and China. It covers about the same area as Switzerland and has a population of about 700, 000 people. About 75% of the population are Buddhists and most of the remainder are Hindus of Nepali descent.

The 'Tiger's Nest' monastery, near Paro

What do I mean by success? About 40 years ago the former king of Bhutan famously declared that ‘gross national happiness is more important than gross national product’. This play on words led eventually to gross national happiness becoming a national objective of Bhutan. In terms of this objective, Bhutan will succeed if it can modernize so that the people can enjoy the benefits of the modern world, without major social problems, loss of culture or environmental damage.

Why should we care? Bhutan’s approach to pursuit of happiness is a social experiment that is attracting a lot of attention around the world. A few months ago the United Nations General Assembly accepted unanimously a resolution sponsored by Bhutan which recognizes the pursuit of happiness as a universal goal. In the years to come we can expect to hear a lot about the success or otherwise of Bhutan’s approach to pursuit of happiness.

So, will Bhutan succeed? If we look at the matter from a management perspective, some of the necessary conditions for successful pursuit of goals have been established: 
  • The government has a fairly clear view of what pursuit of gross national happiness means. It involves promoting socio-economic development and good government (including a vibrant democracy), while preserving cultural heritage and protecting the environment.
  • Surveys are being conducted to monitor progress. The surveys monitor the views of the people about the performance of government as well as resilience of cultural traditions, ecological knowledge, living standards and psychological well-being. 
  •  Survey results are used in de veloping policy e.g. a finding that meditation was not being practiced as often as expected led to meditation classes being offered in schools.


Archery: the national sport and an important cultural activity 

The chances of success might look good from a management perspective, but will the people of Bhutan actually be any more successful in coping with the modern world than the people in other countries have been?

The first point, which seems obvious to me from my short visit, is that most of the people of Bhutan, like most people elsewhere, want the amenities of modern life. The more they know about how people live in wealthy countries, the more they are likely to aspire to have the stuff that people in wealthy countries take for granted – the household items that take the drudgery out of life, the phones and internet access that enable us to stay in touch with each other, motor vehicles – all that and more. It will become obvious to an increasing proportion of Bhutanese that a lot of this stuff can be useful - even though they may be happy with what they have at the moment.

My second point is that Bhutan’s government is not likely to come under much, if any, pressure from the public to sacrifice environmental or cultural objectives to achieve a higher economic growth rate. There is considerable potential for economic development that does not involve major conflict with environmental or cultural objectives. For example, there is potential to sell more hydro power to India and to expand tourism based on cultural and environmental resources.

The big question, in my view, is the extent to which Bhutan will be able to obtain the benefits of modernity without ending up with the social problems of modern societies? How will they cope with the potential for weakening of traditional values and support systems as larger numbers migrate from rural areas in search of a better life in the cities? How can they ensure that young people continue to acquire social values and avoid the weakening of the social fabric (which seemed evident, for example, in the orgy of rioting and looting in London a couple of months ago)? How can they provide a social welfare safety net without ending up with large numbers dependent on welfare benefits? How can they avoid the excesses of a consumer society, with substantial numbers of people incurring excessive debts to live unaffordable lifestyles? How can they avoid having large numbers of people living unhealthy lifestyles, addicted to TV or the internet and vulnerable to inducements of advertisers?

I think there are grounds for hope that the government of Bhutan will learn from the mistakes of other countries and come up with sensible answers to such questions. It is obvious from the international conferences it has been holding that the government is actively seeking to learn from experiences of other countries. The way survey results are being used also provides grounds for hope that Bhutan will succeed. For example, the emphasis that the government is placing on providing opportunities for children to learn skills in mindfulness makes me hopeful that young people in Bhutan are more likely to learn as they grow up that it is their individual responsibility to make best use of the opportunities available to live a meaningful life. What that means at a practical level is learning to accept responsibility for the important choices in their lives, including choices about such mundane matters as what to eat and when to switch off the TV.

On balance, I think there is a better than even chance that Bhutan will succeed in modernization with fewer social problems than have been experienced elsewhere in the world.
Thimphu: the capital city of Bhutan