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Honoring Happiness: What Bhutan, a Cowboy Hat, & the Economy Have in Common

By CCA LiveE

By Ann Teresa Rich

From the moment she took the stage, smiling in a black cowboy hat and turquoise scarf, I knew I was in for a great talk. In October 2012, I had the pleasure of attending a Hunter Lovins lecture at California College of the Arts in San Francisco. She is a charismatic sustainability leader.

Lovins, the president and cofounder of Natural Capitalism Solutions, was named a Time Magazine “Hero of the Planet” in 2000, and is author and co-author of numerous books, including the groundbreaking work, Natural Capitalism, and most recently, Climate Capitalism: Capitalism in the Age of Climate Change. Lovins’ delivery was insightful and I left with a richer understanding of social and environmental responsibility in business. I was surprised, however, by two unexpected lessons that stayed with me after the applause ended.

First, Lovins put the power of change into our hands. No one in the audience was exempt from responsibility. She engaged the audience and demonstrated the influence a single person can have. This individual power was distilled down to the daily choices we each make and how these choices make a difference in our communities and the world. To become conscious of your choices you needed to become conscious of your statement.

What does happiness have to do with sustainability?

The second theme grew more slowly into a complete concept. It was the kind of idea that you find yourself mulling over late at night. Lovins proposed happiness as a determinant of wealth both alongside, and in place of, monetary wealth. I smiled and wondered, “What does happiness have to do with sustainability?”

The short answer is, everything. As Lovins delved deeper into ecological economics, it became apparent that happiness was a serious topic and that the meaning of happiness was being refined. The kind of happiness that Lovins was presenting was not just a fleeting feeling, but rather it was the notion of happiness as currency.

Lovins described how well-being could be integrated into sustainable business models by connecting happiness to traditional wealth measurements. A new definition of economic success was presented by juxtaposing Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Gross National Happiness (GNH). Even more provocative was the question: Which world would you rather live in: one that favors material wealth or holistic well-being?

The United Nation Happiness Project

The happiness work that Lovins presented was tied to her participation in The U.N. Happiness Project. This project brought thought leaders from around the world to study the Bhutanese principle of Gross National Happiness. Bhutan began to use GNH as a determinant of success in 1972. In 2008, a census measurement of GNH was initiated. Bhutan uses 9 happiness domains to determine the health of the whole ecosystem surrounding a person. They are:

  1. Psychological wellbeing

  2. Health

  3. Time use

  4. Education

  5. Cultural diversity and resilience

  6. Good governance

  7. Community vitality

  8. Ecological diversity and resilience

  9. Living standards

Bhutan is a small country deep in the Himalayas. Is their unique perspective of happiness as a currency applicable on a larger scale? A growing number of economists, politicians, and CEOs think so and are promoting happiness as a wealth indicator. The Nobel-prize winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz, has made the case that a country’s overall well-being is inaccurately measured by GDP alone; and the U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said recently that "improving our society's sense of well-being is, I believe, the central political challenge of our times."

Increase GNH to increase profits and productivity

The reason businesses and governments should incorporate happiness into their wealth assessment is not just to increase the well-being of their employees; it is to increase profits and long-term (sustainable) success. Happy people are more productive. Increased productivity equates to higher profits. Studies conducted by Jessica Pryce-Jones found that "the happiest employees are:

180% more energized than their less-content colleagues

155% happier with their jobs

150% happier with life

108% more engaged and

50% more motivated

Most staggeringly, they are 50% more productive too.”

Happiness needs to become part of the business dialogue. It needs to become a part of our national debate. However, the world cannot wait for corporations and governments to adopt GNH. In the spirit of Hunter Lovins, I remind you that the power is in your hands. What can you do to increase your happiness and how can you incorporate the nine happiness principles into your organization?


These articles were created as part of the course work for “Live Exchange” the foundational course on communication for <a href="https://www.triplepundit.com/category/cca-livee/">The MBA Design Strategy Program at California College of the Arts</a>. <a href="https://www.triplepundit.com/category/cca-livee/">Read more about the project here</a>.

Read more stories by CCA LiveE