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Sustainable Happiness -- Lessons From Bhutan

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I recently had the pleasure to sit down with the honorable Prime Minister of Bhutan, Jigme Y. Thinley. He had profound things to say about the importance of Gross National Happiness for individuals, as well as for societies looking at the well-being of their citizens. Even in the U.S., where the pursuit of happiness is written into the constitution, there are important lessons to learn. Here are some ideas that can increase your long-term happiness.

More money does not equal more happiness. As U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated, "[Gross National Product] fails to take into account the social and environmental costs of so-called progress. We need a new economic paradigm that recognizes the parity between the three pillars of sustainable development. Social, economic and environmental wellbeing are indivisible. Together they define gross global happiness."

I want some of that! What if we were to look at our lives in those terms?

Social Well-Being:

"No man (or woman) is an island. We are part of the whole." -- John Dunne. People need people -- it's pretty simple. Yes, food and shelter are imperative, but "after the baseline has been met happiness varies more with the quality of human relationships than income." What then helps create good relationships?

Thoughts Influence Actions: How you respond to a situation often influences the outcome. Are the thoughts that you are thinking (and the actions that result from them) making the situation better or worse? People often feel your intentions and thoughts even if it they are not spoken. Being present to your thoughts is powerful.

Practice Gratitude: This is one of the foundations of sustainable happiness. If you regularly jot down or even notice three things you are grateful for, you can raise your happiness level substantially. By focusing on what brings you happiness, whether it's a smile, a sunset or a sweet conversation, you will become attuned to that and notice it in the most unexpected places. Do it for 28 days and you'll see the change.

To Feel Good, Do Good: The kindness that you extend another helps them, but actually serves you even more. It provides a long lasting good feeling that no one can take away. One of my favorite quotes is: "A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love." -- Saint Basil. Create the community that you want to be part of.

Economic Well-Being: One thing that has perhaps been forgotten is that "economies exist to serve the well-being of people; not visa versa." What does that really mean?

Success and Happiness: Many people share the belief that happiness comes after you achieve success. "If I just had this salary, title or toy, then I could..." New research states that if you want to be more productive and more successful, cultivating happiness is the way to get there. "Your brain at positive is 31 percent more productive than at negative, neutral or stressed ... The hormone dopamine that permeates your system when you are positive also turns on all the learning centers in the brain." To influence your bottom line and your well-being, activate your happiness.

The Idea of Balance: Having high-quality work definitely contributes to happiness, but focusing on the material pursuit alone can cause major stress and depression. The happiest countries in the world value a vibrant community, trusting relationships and time together over the workaholic attitude that more is more. Economic well-being is important, but so is the balance that comes with a meaningful and connected life.

Environmental Well-Being: Let's first look at the inner ecosystem and then the environment at large.

Happiness Is Contagious: The truth is that we are social animals, and every human being is influenced to some extent by those around them. Emotions are contagious. A scientific study has suggested that happiness is contagious to the third degree. By being happy, you are actually raising the happiness levels of three other people, who may not even know why they're feeling uplifted. We have the power to improve the emotional environment around us and to create ecosystems of well-being. The cost is zero and the benefits are immeasurable.

Think Inconvenient Truth: Unless we look out for one another, the generations to come will be in dire straits. There are tangible things to do. At the personal level, leave somewhere better than you found it, and buy from companies that support your future. On the societal level, encourage corporations and governments to make decisions that are good for the long term and for the generations to come.

In the words of Bhutan's Prime Minister, Jigme Y. Thinley, "Sustainable development means survival. It is about how we, as a species, must live within the bounds of what nature can provide. Sustainable development is not a choice. It is an absolute necessity." The good news is that it is not too late. Each and every person has the power to move toward greater well-being on all levels. You can make a difference in your own life and actually be the difference for someone else.

What do you think of Gross National Happiness and what how can you get it started in your life?

For more by Randy Taran, click here.

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