You probably wouldn’t think that the answer to the challenge of Pope Francis’ encyclical would be found in Bhutan. (In part because, you, like me, couldn’t find Bhutan without Google.)
One of the reflections I’ve had on reading Laudato Si’ is that maybe our problem as a society is that we focus on the wrong stuff. We watch the wrong scoreboard. We value things that aren’t all that valuable, in the bigger picture.
From Francis’ perspective (and I would argue, from Jesus’, too) this is undoubtedly true. We invest an inordinate amount of attention on those who have wealth — individuals and countries — and overlook those who have little. This, even though so many — of all faiths and no faith at all — have found that some of the happiest and most fulfilled are not those with plenty, but those the world would call poor.
This is not to say that being poor is in itself good. Critics rightly note that the motif of the “blessed poor” tends to be propagated by people who don’t seem so much driven by a desire to become poor themselves but by the desire to feel less bad about not helping the poor out of their poverty.
But maybe we drive toward wealth, excessive, non-satisfying and destructive levels of wealth, because we are valuing it disproportionately.
What if, instead of measuring personal wealth or gross national product we instead valued gross national happiness? At least that’s the question raised by the ruler of Bhutan, who unveiled a “Gross National Happiness” index and set about to measure his country by metrics that pertain to it.
(I didn’t know this until I heard a TED talk by Chip Conley about it. Just so you don’t think I’m more erudite than I am.)
It’s worth thinking about. (Here’s a link to a paper about the GNH from the Bhutanese. You can Google a world ranking, too.)
Here are the domains they measure:
Psychological Wellbeing – Life satisfaction and Emotional balance (positive and negative emotions) and Spirituality
Health – Self-reported health status, Healthy days, Long-term disability, Mental health
Education – Literacy, Educational qualification, Knowledge, Values
Culture – Language, Artisan skills, Socio-cultural participation, Driglam Namzha (sort of a Bhutanese manners)
Time Use – Working hours and Sleeping hours
Good Governance – Political participation, Political freedom, Service delivery, Government performance
Community Vitality – Social support, Community relationships, Family, Victim of crime
Ecological Diversity and Resilience- Pollution, Environmental responsibility, Wildlife, Urban issues
Living Standards- Household income, Assets, Housing quality
As a scorecard, it is at least more balanced. If we spent more time valuing this set of measures rather than focusing on those with crass wealth, would we be in a better place?