A little while back there was a bit of a splash about how Bhutan was the only country to measure its success by the happiness of its people. What a laudable objective! (It drew comments on how this fitted with its human rights record but I think western democracies might like to take a long hard look at some of their own records before claiming too much moral high ground.) The United Nations was keen to share this around the world. How could we all learn from Bhutan?

Which sadly reinforces the model of pilot and rollout that all big bureaucracies love to espouse. (And boy is the UN a monumental bureaucracy!) We seem always to believe that if somebody works out an answer we can just copy it and deliver it elsewhere. Why we should believe this when it runs counter to almost all empirical evidence is beyond me.

The Bhutan model is based in the culture history and tradition of Bhutan. We can learn from them but we cannot reproduce it. If we want to make Britain a country that places happiness above economic growth we will need to do this in a very British way. The first step would be coming to a collective view that this is something really wanted to do and were prepared to ride the initial suffering needed to achieve it. Our political and community discourse lacks the ability to hold such a conversation.

So we certainly can’t copy Bhutan, we can’t even do it by ourselves. Happiness in Britain will remain a random occurrence.

You can read about Bhutan and happiness at theguardian.com 


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