Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Gross National Happiness

Last Sunday, I went to an exhibit of the sacred arts of Bhutan. Wandering through the dimly lit galleries displaying the tanka paintings of Buddhist deities and mandalas, I sensed an ancient hum I hadn't experienced in years. At the age of 20, I traveled for nine months through India and Nepal. What I was looking for, I didn't know. I just wanted to get away from the materialism of Western culture. Amidst the poverty, gentle people, chaotic cities and timeless temples, I foul my soul. Since then, my life has been an exploration of integrating the connected ways of being I discovered behind outer appearances into the day to day life of dwelling here now in the USA. Maybe this is why I became an architect, to reveal spirit in matter. Reconnecting with that spirit through encountering the Bhutanese sacred arts moved me to tears.

At the exhibit, a film was screened describing the Bhutan government's measure of success. Instead of calculating, as we do, the Gross National Product (GNP), they look at the GNH (Gross National Happiness). Studies were cited indicating that around the world material wealth is important in gaining a level of food, shelter and clothing that supports happiness. After that, more material wealth does not increase happiness. It can actually impede happiness. To the materialistic mind this is insane. Doesn't everyone want a bigger house, a shiner car, more clothes, a refrigerator or two packed with food? Yet, in the bargain, we seem to loose sight of our most tangible possession, our experience of the world and ourselves here and now. Physical objects come and go, but the awareness that senses these thing is always here. But, in so many ways we discredit our inner sense of well-being and chase after that thing that will bring us happiness. When we get it, we're like children delighted until the shine wears off. Then we race after the next thing. If we made Gross National Happiness our priority, silly as it may seem, we might keep our priorities straight. Instead of crushing debt, pollution, global warming, and fear, we might live not being living to pay the bank, the planet would be a garden, rains would come on time and peace would be the measure of success.

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