Gross National Happiness

By Chris Chittenden

In recent times, one of the most prevalent measures of a country's success is their gross national product (GNP) - how much they produce. However, policy advisers in many countries have come to recognise that a solid GNP does not necessarily lead to people feeling satisfied with their life. They are starting to take a great deal of notice of quality of life indicators as well as economic ones when formulating their policies. Indeed one country, Bhutan, has gone so far as to no longer talk about the GNP but rather measure their success through GNH - Gross National Happiness. Now Bhutan cannot be said to be one of the great world economies, but many western observers are starting to believe that "life style" politics is the way of the future. People in many western countries have again shifted their focus away from simplistic financial outcomes in life to the quality of their life.

This is particularly so for people in the work place. The vast majority of the people we coach speak of concerns about finding a balance in life. Indeed, many of them find themselves out of balance as they try to juggle work, family, community and still seek to find some space for themselves. This imbalance often shows up in some of the classic symptoms of stress - emotional fragility, a sense of being overwhelmed and ill-health. All of which can lead to a deteriorating sense of self and a negative impact on relationships with others.

From a coaching perspective, dealing with this sense of imbalance is all about developing well being. The essence of good well being lies in what we see is possible at any point of time. We bring those possibilities to life through choice. When people feel stressed, they feel overwhelmed and do not see many possibilities or choices. The emotional space associated with this becomes one of resignation and anxiety. Nothing will make any difference and things will get no better.

More often than not, when people feel overwhelmed, they have expectations of what should be, which outweigh what they believe they can achieve. There are not enough hours in the day to do what they need to do. Studies into the source of happiness show that this is also one of the major causes of the demise of happiness. No matter how much people have or achieve, it is the gap between what they have or have achieved and what they feel they should have or should achieve that is a pointer to their happiness. This provides the basis of one of the fundamental ways to enhance our sense of well being.

We can examine what we are capable of achieving and make some choices about what we can achieve given our assessment of our current capability. This may still entail achieving what we currently want but in a longer period of time. By undertaking such an examination, we do a number of things. Firstly, we make a choice. We choose to take some reflective action that can engage us to make further choices. Secondly, such an examination breaks down what we are needing to do into smaller parts. In doing so, we are able to more easily identify some actions we can take that would make a difference. Finally, we can re-establish what is important for us. When people feel an imbalance in life, it is pointing to something that is missing. We are putting too much effort into some things and not enough into others. By re-affirming what is important for us, we can make choices about where to spend our time.

The key to all of this is to be clear in our assessments of what we can achieve at this moment in time. We are not saying this is all you have to do in order to enhance your well being, but it is a good starting point. After all, it is not what you achieve that it is important but whether you are satisfied with what you achieve.

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© 2003 Chris Chittenden