Does the San Fernando Valley have anything to learn from the tiny nation of Bhutan? A Himalayan kingdom nestled among India, Nepal and Tibet, with China looming ominously over its geographic shoulder, the entire nation of Bhutan is home to fewer than 700,000 people less than half the population of Our Valley. Bhutan’s official government website mentions that the nation has 145 doctors. There are more than that along Ventura Blvd. between Sepulveda and White Oak. Druk Air, the Royal Bhutan Airlines, operates two A319 aircraft, making it the smallest national carrier in the world. There are no recorded instances of major community unrest over nighttime noise. Thimphu, population 98,676, is the world’s only capital city without a single traffic signal. Thus there are no recorded instances of cars running red lights. The five branches of the Bhutan military forces total 8,000 people fewer than the Los Angeles Police Department. Bhutan is the only nation in the world where you can’t smoke in public and it is illegal to sell tobacco products. It is also the only nation in the world where plastic bags are considered an environmental hazard and are therefore illegal. Assemblyman Lloyd Levine was unsuccessful in getting a similar law passed in Sacramento. The Bhutanese are probably among the poorest yet the happiest people on earth. We in the Western world have, for decades, defined economic growth and success in terms of Gross National Product (GNP). And yet, this country of Buddhist monks, snow and near-unpronounceable names has created a replacement phrase and concept that are beginning to resonate around the world: Gross National Happiness (GNH). King Jigme Singye Wanchuck ascended the throne of Bhutan in 1972, and at that time coined the phrase to symbolize his commitment to building an economy based on the country’s culture and Buddhist spiritual values. While conventional development measurements focus on economic growth as the ultimate objective, the concept of GNH is based on the belief that society advances when material and spiritual development complement and reinforce each other. In 2005, writing in Resurgence, England’s respected environmental publication, Rajni Bakshi wrote, “The evolving concept of GNH could well be the most significant advancement in economic theory over the last 150 years. Today it is widely acknowledged that the human economy cannot keep growing at the cost of its habitat. Yet even after two decades of expanding environmental regulation we are still losing the race to save the planet. This is partly because production systems and consumption patterns are out of sync with the carrying capacity of the planet. The pressure for ever higher GNP is merely one manifestation of this.” The four pillars of GNH are the promotion of equitable and sustainable socioeconomic development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and establishment of good governance. Sounds pretty simple and logical doesn’t it? So what does all this have to do with us? Have we perhaps gotten the spiritual and material out of whack right here? Maybe it’s time we asked ourselves whether true prosperity is more trees or more cement? Is happiness enhanced computer capabilities, PDAs, and other devices whose sole purpose is to allow us to work harder and longer? Many a businessperson has arched an eyebrow at the mention of the president of Homeowners of Encino, whom many believe would like Encino to return to what it was half a century ago. But perhaps there is merit in scrutinizing more closely what and where and how we build. And then there’s the issue of good governance. We live in an era where elected officials do not serve and then return to civilian life; instead, they play political musical chairs, starting to think about the next office they’ll run for before they’re termed out of the one they have. And there’s no need to dwell on their propensity for living the high life at the public trough. How about that near-sacrosanct mantra of democracy: “One man, one vote?” When our nation began, that “one man” meant one white man who met certain property ownership qualifications women, people of color or anybody who did not own property. We’ve corrected many of those inequities but in our gerrymandered State are still far from equitable elections. A headline in the May/June issue of The American magazine summed it up well: “Americans have on average gotten much richer over the past several generations. But there has been no meaningful rise in the average level of happiness.” The French writer and philosopher Albert Camus might have been referring to GNH when he wrote, “What is happiness except the simple harmony between a man and the life he leads?” Maybe a little less focus on Gross National Product and a little more on Gross National Happiness would be good for all of us in Our Valley. Martin Cooper is president of Cooper Communications, Inc. He is president of the L.A. Quality and Productivity Commission, founding president of The Executives, and vice chairman-marketing of the Boys & Girls Club of the West Valley. He is a past chairman of VICA, past president of the Public Relations Society of America-Los Angeles Chapter, and past-president of the Encino Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at email@example.com .
What’s the Valley’s Gross National Happiness?