Friday, April 6, 2012

Measuring Happiness -- Writer's Poke #378

I like the idea that Bhutan has established. It’s a poor country, so not surprisingly, it doesn’t put as much emphasis on Gross National Product as the United States does. Instead, it has developed something called “Gross National Happiness.”

Is Bhutan happier than the rest of the world? That, I don’t know. Every so often, some sort of “contentment survey” is released, and I don’t recall that Bhutan has ever topped the list. Then again, perhaps the people conducting the survey neglect to include Bhutan in their evaluations.

Bhutan is a country that was “closed” to the outside world until 1974. Even today, while Bhutan welcomes tourists, it charges them around $200 a day for the privilege of visiting. That obviously makes Bhutan a fairly expensive country to visit. But it is a country that is being more modern. Heck, ten years ago, it finally got a TV station, and the people of Bhutan now have access to the Internet. Bhutan’s main road, finished just 25 years ago or so, has also made it possible for people to travel across the country in 2 hours rather than 2 days.

Things, then, seem to be looking up for Bhutan. Question is: Is the country any happier for the modernization? For that matter, does modernization make you any happier? Thanks to modernization, I am able to complete two graduate programs, both online, simultaneously. In addition to that, I can continue my full-time job. I can even pick-up part-time online work, if I so desire. The point is, modernization has made it possible to exhaust myself completely, beyond my wildest dreams. And, I would say that I have reached past the point of exhaustion at least three times this semester. Each time, I have been able to recover, and each time, I have felt the satisfaction of knowing that I can reach beyond my limits and survive. Am I happier? Ask me in a month when the semester has come to a close.

How do you measure personal happiness? What is the best way for a country to measure happiness? Do you think the United States is, overall, a “happy” country?

“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” – Aristotle

Monday, April 2, 2012

Tibet Appropriated -- Writer's Poke #377

David Attenborough was probably joking when he said that he rather doubted if there was anything in Tibet. Of course when Michael Palin first arrives in Tibet, what he sees he describes as “lunar landscape.” And, it’s true. Not much is there. At least, we don’t see any strip malls, and who knows how many miles it might be to the nearest McDonalds.

If by “anything” one means people or even human structures, then perhaps vast portions of Tibet are “nothing.” Then again, Buddhist monks call it home. Are they attracted to the nothingness? Everest is there, too, of course, and it’s the “tallest nothing” on the entire planet. People from around the globe like to test themselves against it. Why?

Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, isn’t “nothing.” It’s home to over 250,000 people. However, is Lhasa actually “Tibet”? Palin notes that since the Chinese came, so too came the wide roads, the modern communist-style apartment complexes, and something more: the Chinese. Did the Chinese see Tibet as empty space?

More than Chinese influence has changed the landscape of Lhasa. Palin notes that American influence (by way of China) has penetrated the nothingness of Tibet as well. Tibet used to be one of those “closed” mysterious societies. Now, although it still requires a long series of flights to reach Lhasa, anyone with a few thousand dollars can be there within a day or two. And with visitors comes outside influence. If nothing was in Tibet at one time, this is no longer true. Now the question becomes: Is anything in Tibet authentic? Or is everything simply imported?

If the Dalai Lama returned to Tibet, would he be able to recognize the place he still calls home?

How do people's ideas of place change places?

"There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered." -- Nelson Mandela