Author Topic: The cost of trying to buy happiness  (Read 16587 times)


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The cost of trying to buy happiness
« on: May 20, 2012, 04:50:08 PM »
"Wealth creates increased desire," ~ Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley of Bhutan

Bhutan counts the cost of trying to buy happiness

By Belinda Goldsmith, Reuters, May 18, 2012
THIMPHU, Bhutan -- They say you can't buy happiness - and it's something Bhutan is finding out the hard way.

The tiny, mostly-Buddhist Himalayan kingdom won a world voice for adopting a happiness index to measure its economy. But its prime minister says it promptly forgot its own lesson, and let a sudden rush of prosperity go to its head.

"Wealth creates increased desire," Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley told Reuters in an interview in the capital Thimphu, surrounded by tree covered mountains dotted with prayer flags.

"There are families with four or five cars. There are luxury vehicles being imported that can hardly drive on our roads and are made for far better roads than we have here."

A country that was closed to foreigners until 1974 and only recently opened up to the forces of globalisation lacked the tools to cope with new-found economic growth and the wealth it brought.

Debt-fuelled consumerism that far outpaced economic output has now led, inevitably, to a rude awakening.

The government has cut expenditure and is considering raising taxes on imported vehicles. The central bank, the Royal Monetary Authority of Bhutan, has rationed the main trading currency, the Indian rupee, squeezing private businesses.

Youth unemployment is over 9 percent and people are drifting away from the countryside, and traditional values, to the towns.

Worst of all, Bhutan's most recent Gross National Happiness GNH.L index, in 2010, found only 41 percent qualified as "happy".


"We have been moving away from GNH values and, like many countries, becoming more materialist," said Thinley.

"When such tendencies come at a cost to the economy, like we are suffering now, the government has to take difficult measures," he said. "We have to accept that the rupee is not our currency."

Thinley's Druk Phuensum Tshogpa government won power in Bhutan's first democratic election in 2008 and heads to the polls again next year.

He said the crisis highlighted the need to focus once more on the happiness index, which uses nine criteria: psychological well-being, ecology, health, education, culture, living standards, use of time, community vitality and good governance.

"Our economic problems are the result of being opened to the world and being part of the globalisation process."

Despite its boom, Bhutan remains one of the world's least developed and poorest nations, where 70 percent of 700,000 people live on subsistence farming. But economic growth led to a surge in imports of industrial and consumer goods from neighbouring India.

Almost one in eight of the 65,000 vehicles on its roads were imported last year.

Thinley said the cost of importing fuel to keep these cars on the roads wiped out the earnings that Bhutan made from its major industry, selling hydro-electric power to India.

"The revenue we earn from exporting clean energy is the same as the cost for the dirty fuel that we import from India," he said, sipping Bhutan's traditional butter-and-salt tea in a timber-clad room dominated by portraits of Bhutan's five kings.


But it seems to be getting harder to convince people to put a holistic sense of happiness ahead of raw economic development.

In parliament on Thursday the government forecast economic growth of 7-8 percent next year and said it hoped to reach its target of cutting poverty to 15 percent from 23 percent. The electricity grid covers 77 percent of the country.

"It's sad but true that the roads we are building to take services to villages are the roads by which villagers leave and some set up shanty towns around the cities," said Thinley, dressed in Bhutan's traditional knee-length, belted robe.

He said the government must prioritise policies that promoted the appreciation of rural life and stop the drift into urban areas, which was decimating villages and making the country more dependent on imported produce.

"In many ways, life in the rural setting is better and the possibility to find happiness is far greater than living in a city where you don't even know your next-door-neighbour and violence is rising," he said.

"We need to create a conscious desire in our people to continue to live in rural areas or move back from urban areas. Rather than live in a stuffy apartment, go back to the farm!"

It may be a hard message to sell to the young people heading for the towns, abandoning traditional dress for jeans, and looking for civil service jobs rather than manual work.

"People across Bhutan need to realise that we need to be more independent," he said, "(relying) on our own farming and resources."

Positive Change

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Re: The cost of trying to buy happiness
« Reply #1 on: May 20, 2012, 05:51:40 PM »
The age old edict which created consumerism... buying not merely what we need but what we want. The very description of this is wrong. Sometimes I wonder if development is indeed moving forward or are we merely putting nice wallpaper on damp moldy walls... it looks great at first glance, then it just slowly peels off in time... :)


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Re: The cost of trying to buy happiness
« Reply #2 on: May 21, 2012, 02:09:25 AM »
It is interesting to note that in places like Bhutan, Tibet etc where the people used to be more spiritual  are now turning to materialism as a result of economic advancement while in the West where it is the home ground of materialism, people there are becoming more spiritual.

Is this a syndrome of "the grass is always greener on the other side "? Or perhaps we need to experience the empty promises  of samsara's pleasures before we can be truly spiritual . People from the Western countries have realized "Samsara's pleasures can bring no contentment", as such there is a renaissance of spiritualism there. While people of the East , even though have been "spiritual" for centuries are now being lured to find these deceptive pleasures when their countries start to open up to external economic influences. Looks like human must get burnt before we learn our lesson on the source of true happiness.


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Re: The cost of trying to buy happiness
« Reply #3 on: May 21, 2012, 06:04:21 AM »
It is indeed very difficult to maintain the Gross National Happiness GNH.L index" in these times of globalisation. It is inevitable that globalisation brings the exposure to the modern ways of life that focuses on immediate gratification. All it takes is for a happy villager to watch television and see programs that shows the modern world with its cars, glamourous lifestyles, good food to convince many of these villagers of the  very impermanent but also immediate "happiness" of the senses that is very attractive. Like a moth attracted to the flames.

It is ironic that people who were born into the "happiest country in the world" are now going the other way. It confirms many of the tenets of buddhism about impermanence, the law of karma, the first 2 of the the four noble truths. Humans have the 5 senses that cause all kind of havocs and ultimately suffering.

I agree that "wealth creates increased desire" but insofar as to people who do not have wealth and the Dharma. It can be seen by examples of the western society like mentioned by Kurava. Wealth itself is neutral. Without wealth we cannot do much with the Dharma. Trying to bring happiness to people by promoting contentment and renunciation only is not enough in today degenerate age. To me the ultimate "perfect" world is a world of relative wealth where every material needs are basically satisfied but with very strong practice of Dharma; where the practice of Vajrayana, starting with the 8 verses of thought transformations and the practice of the 6 paramitas takes precedent.

That to me will really means happiness!


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Re: The cost of trying to buy happiness
« Reply #4 on: May 22, 2012, 01:22:19 PM »
Bhutan has opened its doors irreversibly to globalization and must now bear the consequences of its negative impact on the people. This impact is seen in unbridled consumerism driven by increased desire for material things which are perceived to bring instant pleasure.So much so that youths are abandoning their rural homes and farms to go to towns and cities in search of this happiness, content to stay in shanties there.   

Strangely enough, Bhutan's  Happiness Index has 9 criteria, which do not seem to be clearly linked to spirituality or the Dharma. "Living standards" is one of the criteria. With consumerism on the rise and increasingly unsatisfied wants, most people would not be happy about their living standards. This is especially more so when ,despite the economic boom,Bhutan remains "one of the world's least developed and poorest nation , where 70% of 700,000 people live on subsistence farming".

It will be a daunting task indeed for the government to persuade people to return to their rural homes and farms ,saying that in many ways there is greater happiness living there. As has been said earlier, people have to experience the disenchantment of materialism, before they turn to the Dharma or to the spiritual. This is especially so if there is no education and training of the mind in Dharma from a young age. 

diamond girl

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Re: The cost of trying to buy happiness
« Reply #5 on: May 23, 2012, 05:58:19 PM »
Based on my understanding of Buddhism, materialistic desires is one sure way of creating suffering ONLY when we have attachments to materialism. This means that the materialistic objects of our desire is the key to our inner happiness. I do not think that Buddhism preached scarcity in fact practising abundance is the practice of creating giving and opposing being miserly.

The problems of materialism arises when we are attached to the objects and that without it we lose our sensed and equilibrium. This then leads us to realize emptiness. The teaching of emptiness is not same as nothingness but the non-attachment to our material things.

I checked out some information on Buddhism and Materialism and it was said that Buddhism is the only religion which "attempts to offer rational philosophical refutation of the materialistic worldview." It is a rather technical article but interesting nonetheless... Please have a read:


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Re: The cost of trying to buy happiness
« Reply #6 on: May 24, 2012, 10:15:38 AM »
Buying happiness in the pretext of material for oneself will not have long lasting results of happiness. That act itself is merely temporary satisfaction depending on how much we value that material. Once the material loses its desired value based on what we perceived then the suffering begins, and the whole cycle of acquisition begins again. The whole cycle is suffering.

So where do wealth stands? I think wealth is not bad however what we do with our wealth is key. We can use our wealth to benefit others through giving, that act of selflessness to give and benefit others will have long lasting happiness. However if we use our wealth for just to satisfy personal desires then we are heading for suffering. We cannot survive without money, Dharma cannot grow without money because we are in the era that needs money for everything we do. We need money to print Dharma text, build Dharma centers, provide the monasteries food and basic needs for Sanghas, after that maintaining all of those and etc. In this sense if we use our wealth to maintain these than I think it will bring about tremendous benefits us and everyone we benefit and that itself will have lasting happiness.

Bhutan was the happiest country at one point in time even though the country was poor, now with the economy and wealth pouring in the happiness goes down. It tells a lot about happiness cannot be bought.


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Re: The cost of trying to buy happiness
« Reply #7 on: May 24, 2012, 01:14:37 PM »
Desire beings of the desire realm of existence have endless desires.  Our desires increase when we get more or when we have more.  Our desires also increase when we don’t get what we wanted or we are deprived of what we have.  Prime Minister Jigme Thinley was referring to the first point when he said that wealth creates increased desire.  For someone who has no wisdom on managing wealth, it probably does him no good to have too much of a wealth.  He may misuse the wealth which causes him to experience suffering.  It is not wrong to have wealth or desires.  Using our wealth to benefit others is commendable.  But to have extreme desires causes sufferings. 

Bhutanese is experiencing rapid economic growth and development.  Development comes with many social and economic problems.  If Bhutanese focus on outer wealth instead of inner wealth, then they won’t find the happiness that they want. 

Jessie Fong

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Re: The cost of trying to buy happiness
« Reply #8 on: May 25, 2012, 08:41:24 AM »
Happiness is a mental state of well-being.  It is not something left on the shelf with a price tagged to it.

Increasing your collection of material things will not ensure lasting happiness.  In fact it creates more unhappiness : case to point - the Bhutanese imported cars that were not made to be used on their Bhutan roads.  So what happened then?  Was it not a waste of money to invest buying something that ends up sitting in the garage just to look good?  Where is the happiness?  Short-lived, right?


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Re: The cost of trying to buy happiness
« Reply #9 on: May 25, 2012, 03:31:20 PM »
Its sadly to know that Bhutan turning from the spiritual country to materialistic after open country not so long ago.. Many countries in asia are like go along that way, the recent one is myanmar which just open country.

Our desire is something like we never feel satify with what we have and we think if we have more we will become more happy ie a business man who start business in a small scale and has a small goal, once he acheive his small goal he going for medium scope of goal and going to more and more after acheive it, never end.

The desire is funny as it play around with us with our achievement and wanting to have more and more and more as we have delusion mind that we are going to be more happy because of when we achieve the first goal we are very happy so we thought the next one is will be more happy..hence many people work hard whole life for the material increase until die but never feel the real happy. 

Many of western people are acheived the highest goal of their life for wealth, material increase etc but they could not find and feel the real happiness therefore they are looking for other thing that provide them real happiness hence they find and enter to spiritual path.
Most of asia people has been suffering with physically poor and once the livlihood is getting better and they have a wrong view that this is the real happiness that they has been looking for, hence they getting deeper to it without realizing that its just delusion.

Well.. we need to gain wisdom to realize what is the delusion mind and what is the real happiness which will help us come out from the mind set of having more materials and wealth is the most happiness.   

Tenzin K

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Re: The cost of trying to buy happiness
« Reply #10 on: May 25, 2012, 11:43:54 PM »
I’m quite impressed with Bhutan which rated as the happiest country in Asia & the eight-happiest in the world based on a global survey in 2006 by Business Week.

But this doesn’t last when the focus of the government changes to achieve materialism. As the country open up for globalization the focus of the government very much in to economic growth. No surprise for the tremendous drop of their Gross National Happiness index. How can materialism make people happy? The more people chase for something that is impermanent the bigger their desire is. Young one will not appreciate the culture and spiritual learning due to able to see the enjoyment of their desire.

The greater the promotion of the desire the more delusion embedded in the people. Purpose of life no longer looking at permanent happiness which we can achieve through spiritual teaching and practice instead people will start to build up their negative quality to achieve their desire no matter what come by to stop them.
Changing the direction going back to rural life after realizing the truth of happiness is not easy but doesn’t mean impossible. The government must have something solid and able to touch the people to make them realize it.

For whatever reason, spiritual learning and practice must be strong in a country and it has to be constantly promoted. This is the only practice that hold one strong and remain happiness forever. 


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Re: The cost of trying to buy happiness
« Reply #11 on: May 26, 2012, 09:11:03 AM »
Religion is not just some dry intellectual idea but rather your basic philosophy of life: you hear a teaching that makes sense to you, find through experience that it relates positively with your psychological makeup, get a real taste of it through practice, and adopt it as your spiritual path. That's the right way to enter the spiritual path.

If, for example, after you encounter Buddhism for the first time you think it contains wonderful ideas and immediately try to make radical changes to your life, you won't make any progress at all. You have to implement it step by step. To actualize Dharma you have to look at your basic situation, what you are now, and try to change gradually, checking as you go.

So, why do we all have different views of what spirituality and materialism are? Because we have all had different experiences and therefore think differently.

We also have to accept the fact that everything is constantly changing. Many of us have fixed ideas about the way things should be and suffer when they don't turn out like that. Lord Buddha's psychology teaches us to free ourselves from that kind of grasping – not in an emotional, rejecting way but rather by taking the middle way, between the two extremes. If you put your mind wisely into this balanced space, you will find there happiness and joy.


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Re: The cost of trying to buy happiness
« Reply #12 on: May 26, 2012, 10:22:49 AM »
Many countries don't have dharma rooted into the mass consciousness of the society and only been exposed to the dharma in the last few decades. These are 1st world countries and developing countries where materialism is the way of life. More and more people in these countries are starting to embrace dharma because of the truth it presents as a way to find happiness.

On the other hand, a country like Bhutan has been deeply rooted in dharma for countless of generations and its citizens lives in an extremely sheltered environment. Because of this, Bhutan today is one of the least progressive nation. It's not surprising because the country is run this way and progress is not the goal but preservation of culture, pursuit of holistic way of life for happiness is emphasized.

I've been thinking how is it possible that a nation which has been so deeply rooted in dharma can be so easily shaken by what the rest of the world has to offer. Is it because the farmers don't have the capacity to understand dharma thus, though dharma is said to have been in the country but it was never really been in the lives of the people but rather as a governing tool to keep distractions out of their lives? How has this benefitted the country and citizens? How long can the people be sheltered from the rest of the world? Is sheltering the people and having them to live in rural areas? I'm not a politician but I'm looking at alternate ways to derive at the same goal. I personally think not exposing people is not the solution.

Education is the key. Perhaps then the citizens can think for themselves, study, understand and come to realize how fortunate they are that their government's guiding principles is based on the buddhist doctrine to ensure the citizens have happiness...true lasting, unshakeable happiness.


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Re: The cost of trying to buy happiness
« Reply #13 on: June 03, 2012, 02:42:25 PM »
The current economy is based on consumerism... When 911 happened, President Bush did not invite Americans to sacrifice or work hard in order to defeat terrorism; he invited them to go shopping. It is worried that, if people do not buy, the whole demand-supply chain will stop and economy crisis will happen.

And to encourage people to buy, all the advertisements are harping on our DESIRE. All adverts are telling us we don't have enough, and that if we get this and that, we will be very happy. I guest there is a reason why now is called the degenerated age.

That's why, it is important that we study Buddhism, and understand that happiness do not come from outside (own this and that), but from inside.


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Re: The cost of trying to buy happiness
« Reply #14 on: June 04, 2012, 11:01:58 AM »
total agreement with kris. One of the first things I learnt in Buddhism was that materialism, material things and the chase for material things do not bring happiness. This resounded in me strongly. I have lived in India, Nepal, Sweden, New York. Although Nepal and India are so backwards in comparison to the western cities I am so familiar with, I prefer Nepal or India because of just one thing - it is so much easier to lead a spiritual life here. No worries about the next party, the next show on Broadway, the next holiday in Europe. Life moves slower, there is so much more time to think and contemplate on the meaning of life, especially when surrounded by poverty.