Six Characters in Search of a Blogger


5.6 Don’t worry, be happy: the King of Bhutan

So I’ve been thinking:  life isn’t really like Christmas songs, is it?  I mean, who really roasts chestnuts?  And where are all of these glorious silver bells ringing in the city?  And in this time of holly jolliness, isn’t it rather horrible that people are being trampled to death at Walmart?

King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck of Bhutan

King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck of Bhutan

In a season that is supposed to be about joy, and giving, and peace, there seems to be a fearsome amount of stress and aggravation all around us.

That’s why (in this VERY tardy post, my apologies) I chose my final fascinating character of 2008: King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck of Bhutan.

King Jigme, an Oxford alumnus, was coronated just two days after Barack Obama won the U.S. Presidential election.  At age 28, he is the youngest king and head of state in the world, and he presides over one of the world’s newest democracies (it held its first parliamentary elections in December of 2007.)  And he is single.

But that is not the reason I chose the young monarch as a fascinating person.  No:  the reason has to do with the country he presides over, and the philosophy that is part of its national creed.  Because Bhutan, a small country that lies at the end of the Himalayas, and wedged between the behemoths of India and China (well, technically China’s “autonomous” region of Tibet), strikes me as one of the most important countries in the world.  And it is not because of the size of its military, nor yet because of its wealth (Gross National Product), but rather because its guiding principle of self-measurement is called Gross National Happiness (GNH).  Amazing, yes?  Gross National Happiness.

As you would imagine, there is much debate about how to measure something that is, in its essence, so subjective.  And since the GNH policy was instituted in 1972 by King Jigme’s father, there have been multiple approaches to developing metrics.  But the most recent (and comprehensive) effort has included indexing seven specific indicators, including economic wellness, environmental wellness, physical wellness, mental wellness, workplace wellness, social wellness, and political wellness.

Now it strikes me that the U.S. would likely fail in most of these categories, were we to actually measure ourselves.  But as we look towards 2009, wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if we at least decided to try and attempt something like national happiness?  And started grading ourselves accordingly?

Perhaps then the songs we sing at this time of year would have a bit more meaning.  And our attitude of “peace on earth, goodwill towards men” might stretch beyond a few brief weeks at the end of December.

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