Last week I mentioned my recent trip to Nepal and Bhutan to conduct entrepreneur workshops for young people in those two countries.
Bhutan is a country I have always been keen to visit, as not only was the majesty of the Himalaya’s calling, but also a great interest in Bhutan’s rather enlightened perspective on happiness. They have for more than four decades embraced a far wider perspective on prosperity than is measured in the typically used measure of Gross National/Domestic Product.
His Majesty the Fourth King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck coined the term Gross National Happiness (GNH) for Bhutan in the 1970s. The concept implies that sustainable development should take a holistic approach towards notions of progress and give equal importance to non-economic aspects of wellbeing.
The concept of GNH has often been explained by its four pillars: good governance, sustainable socio-economic development, cultural preservation, and environmental conservation. Lately the four pillars have been further classified into nine domains in order to create widespread understanding of GNH and to reflect the holistic range of GNH values. The nine domains are: psychological wellbeing, health, education, time use, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience, and living standards.
What is interesting about the measure of Gross National Happiness is that it frames a wider platform for a conversation about what is important to people. A conversation that also gives recognition to the fact that about 23% of the Bhutanese population live below the national poverty line. This is particularly the case in the rural areas.
But our experience with the participants in our workshops, who were primarily from the rural district, something travelling for three days to attend, was that life was good. They did not see their world as being defined by material possessions, rather by health, community and enough food to survive on comfortably. They radiated a sense of contentment.
It was a rather sobering reminder of the extent to which we in branding and marketing spend far too much time trying to build weird narratives about what is required to be happy. Most of these narratives are structured around the need to be owning and consuming particular products or services. Yes, it is does serve to create economic activity and employment, but it does beg the question – is that the only end game?
So what is the morale of this little blog? Am I asking us all to pack up our little marketing kit bags and go home? No, I am not. But what I would love is for every brand manager who is reading this blog (yes, both of you!), to ask yourself, what is my brand doing to make this a better world?
Selling and doing good, are not mutually exclusive. In fact the growing numbers of social entrepreneurs in the world are re-shaping positively the paradigms we have about what business has to offer. Likewise well thought through corporate social responsibility initiatives bring much needed balance to the equation.
Gross National Happiness draws most of its power from the fact that it lifts the level of community consciousness about what is important. Likewise for us, we need to at times lift our level of consciousness about where our focus should be. Certainly I do.
Brand Scientist & Founder