In life, all actions result in consequences for ourselves and others. When we discover that the smallest action creates this effect, one becomes thoughtful of what we do.
(Mitch, When Eagles Dare to Fly, by James W Hoddinott)
In order to move forward we need to understand our past. Learn from those values and beliefs that have made societies and civilizations survive. We also need to learn from what caused societies to crumble. Without an understanding of our history, the history of humankind, moving forward is like finding your way in a dark cave searching for the light that will help you understand where to go, who you are and where you came from.
There is a pure beauty in their goals and family ties, their belief in gods and nature, and their will to do the right thing in order to be taken care of when their time comes.
Jimmy Nelson, Before They Pass Away
Jimmy Nelson, a photographer, has created what many people call an art book, but in reality has captured the civilizations that have survived and flourished in their traditions and customs. Many of us judge the lives of the cultures Jimmy Nelson shares with us through his photography as perhaps backward. It is through an examination of the values of these ancient cultures we may perhaps find the keys to what will help our society move forward, find happiness.
History provides clues for all of us if we are willing to pay attention to the lessons we are taught. Prior to the fall of the Roman Empire the examples of greed, lust and politics without principle were the driving force behind a once powerful society. It is not difficult to examine the issues surrounding Rwanda, the World Wars and current societal issues in the Ukraine and if we apply Gandhi’s Seven Deadly Sins to each of our societies it would be easy to identify some current problems facing humankind both locally and globally.
The United Nations has identified Gross National Happiness Index as an alternative to ranking the well-being of a society rather than Gross National Product that relies solely on economic factors.
By each of us examining our local communities, cities, countries on a broader measure it will help support the societal and cultural values that have been the foundation of successful societies throughout history.
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. The domains represents each of the components of wellbeing of the Bhutanese people, and the term wellbeing here refers to fulfilling conditions of a “good life” as per the values and principles laid down by the concept of Gross National Happiness.
North American society by all reports is experiencing an increase in mental health issues. If we use GNH as a benchmark we would be able to identify this as a symptom that something in our society is not working. If we further examine Gandhi’s Seven Deadly Sins can you identify examples of society’s focus on independence, self-indulgence and drive towards physical beauty as being the most important part of who we are that may be contributing negatively to the mental health of people.
I by no means am suggesting a return to the civilizations depicted in Jimmy Nelson’s magnificent photography but rather an examination of their culture, values and sense of community that have helped those societies survive when others have failed. I am suggesting we examine the factors that contributed to the fall of other civilizations and let those examples help us understand the frailties of our current societies for our long-term sustainability.
I am suggesting we begin to look at our society’s well-being from a broader scale such as Gross National Happiness Index so we can develop long-term sustainability and happiness for our families and communities. I am suggesting we start to measure and understand healthy communities and healthy people who will provide the foundation for a better and more sustainable planet. We need to understand Economic Development is only one of the four pillars of GNH.
We need to look at creating Good Governance, Sustainable Socio-Economic Development, Cultural Preservation and Environmental Conservation. Canada has typically scored well on this index but it is falling. We need to ask ourselves why? We need to understand if what we define as progress will create a society that is happy,