BHUTAN, HAPPINESS and the BIBLE
(Investigator 160, 2015
Bhutan is a
Himalayan country whose government aims to maximize the happiness of
A Guide to the
Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan says:
In the pursuit
of Gross National Happiness, the state is guided by the
enhance social justice, spiritual well-being and socio economic growth.
Declaration of Independence (1776) also endorsed happiness:
We hold these
truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they
are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that
among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
In agreement with
Bhutan and America on happiness as a goal is an ancient Asian book
people whose God is the LORD."
That book, The
Bible, has the words "happy", "blessed", "joy", "rejoice" and
"joyful" about 650 times and even calls God "blessed" or happy. Below
we'll compare its instructions for happiness with psychology.
— BASIC FACTS
Thimphu; 80,000 inhabitants
Bhutanese and Nepali
Buddhism (75%) and Hinduism
Mountains line northern Bhutan where the few inhabitants live in
isolated monasteries. Central Bhutan is mountainous too but crossed by
rivers which flow southwards through broad, sub-tropical valleys. Here
most people live and most farming takes place. The climate varies with
altitude and is influenced by the monsoons.
In the 16th century
Tibet exercised nominal control over Bhutan, and China in the 18th
century. Britain assumed control of Bhutan's foreign affairs in 1910,
India in 1949, followed by autonomy in 2007.
In 1907 Bhutan
became a monarchy when Ugyen Wangchuk, a local governor, became King
and set up Bhutan's first effective central government. The fourth
king, Jigme Singye Wangchuk, declared Bhutan a democracy in 2008 and
abdicated, replaced by his son, Oxford educated Jigme Khesar Namgyel
Bhutan is a low
income country developing its hydroelectric potential and modernizing.
Agriculture and livestock employ 80% of the workforce. Barley, rice,
wheat, millet, and potatoes are the chief crops, cattle and yaks the
main animals. Bhutan's first modern highways were built in the 1960s —
one linked Bhutan to Assam, another to Bengal. Bhutan's first
television station and Internet access opened in 1999.
Annie Kelly (2012)
reports: "Since 1971, the country has rejected GDP as the only way to
measure progress. In its place, it … measures prosperity through formal
principles of gross national happiness (GNH) and the spiritual,
physical, social and environmental health of its citizens and natural
GNH has four
"pillars" — Sustainable development; promotion of cultural values;
conservation of the natural environment; and good governance — and
various contributors to happiness such as physical, mental and
spiritual health; social and community vitality; cultural vitality;
education; living standards; and ecological vitality.
tourism to Bhutan began in 1974. I read the book The Himalayan
Kingdoms (published 1963), traversed India in 1975, and wanted to
visit Bhutan but failed.
Until the 1990s,
psychological research into human feelings focused on emotional
problems — illness rather than wellness.
Martin Seligman, 1998
President of the American Psychological Association, advocated change
and authored Learned Optimism (1991) and Authentic Happiness
emphasis caught on. Carlin Flora (2009) says only 50 books on happiness
were published in 2000, but 4000 books in 2008.
became popular because depression is common. Kathleen McGowan (2009)
writes that 15 million Americans experience major depression:
depression is so common because a lot of different biological and
psychological roads lead to the same place. A variety of switches get
tripped—whether by genetic vulnerability, trauma in early life, chronic
stress, disturbance of neurochemistry, or guilt-prone tendencies—and
the end result is depression."
Emma Bayley (2008)
Health Organization has predicted that it [depression] will be the
second most devastating disease in the world by 2020…"
shorten life or kill by suicide. Reporter Callie Watson (2010)
Institute of Health and Welfare report looked at chronic diseases that
caused people to die before the age of 75… Coronary heart disease
topped the list for men, then lung cancer and depression…"
What does the Bible
teach about happiness and what have researchers discovered?
economics assumes that increased Gross Domestic Product improves
Lane (2001) disagrees and concludes that after life's necessities are
satisfied, increased GDP has little effect.
He finds that people who
judge themselves by their wealth and income are less content than those
with "intrinsic goals" characterized "By self acceptance, good
relations with others, a desire to help the community, and physical
fitness and good health." To make affluence an end in itself — to
endlessly accumulate stuff and money that won't be purposefully used —
can make people unhappy, even ill.
finding is the "Happy Planet Index" which ranked Vanuatu as the
happiest nation in 2006 and Costa Rica in 2012, although both ranked
poorly in GDP. Britain and the US came 108th and 150th in happiness in
2006 despite their wealth.
In 2011 the United
Nations approved a Bhutan-sponsored resolution titled "Happiness:
Towards a Holistic Approach to Development". It affirmed that happiness
is a fundamental human goal not measured by GDP.
The Bible agrees, by
Be on your
guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in
the abundance of possessions. (Luke 12:15)
If we have food and
clothing we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich
fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful
desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. (I Timothy 6:8-9)
(2007) writes: "But competing for wealth … is a recipe for
unhappiness". He adds that great disparity in income within a society
reduces happiness in the disadvantaged by the envy it creates. The
Bible agrees — it advocates sharing — James 2:14-17.
Aristippus, a Greek
philosopher, equated happiness with maximizing one's pleasure and
Aristotle (384-322 BCE) in contrast equated happiness
with maximizing one's personal excellence or "virtue" and using it to
Michael Steger and
colleagues (2008) studied this conflict by asking students to log their
daily virtue building activities (e.g. volunteer work) and pleasure
seeking activities such as drugs, alcohol or nice walks. The students
also completed daily questionnaires designed to measure their
Virtue-building was associated with increased happiness;
pleasure-seeking was not.
The Bible teaches
virtue — but also demands more:
true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure,
whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any
excellence [= virtue] and if there is anything worthy of praise,
think about these things. (Philippians 4:8; James 4:1-3)
(2008) discusses research on how to "defeat temptation and make the
best long-term choices."
She says: "Self-control plays a key role in our lifelong health and
The Bible agrees and
The fruit of
the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity,
faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. (Galatians 5:22)
You must make every
effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with
knowledge, and knowledge with self control… (II Peter 1:5)
Dr Robert Emmons
(2007) says "The New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier".
He advocates that
people feel grateful for quality relationships, write "gratitude"
letters, and acknowledge whatever improves their living standards. This
can include benefits usually taken for granted such as freedom, ample
food, effective medicine, good roads – things most people in history
Jeffrey Froh and colleagues (2011) concluded: "Materialistic youth seem
to be languishing while grateful youth seem to be flourishing."
They studied 1035
high school students and found that students with high levels of
gratitude had "better academic performance, less depression, and a more
positive outlook than less grateful teenagers."
The Bible mostly
uses the word "thankful" instead of "grateful" and teaches that
people's main gratitude should flow to God:
thankful. (Colossians 3:15)
Entirely out of place is
obscene, silly, and vulgar talk; but instead let there be thanksgiving.
Thanks be to God for his
indescribable free gift. (II Corinthians (9:15)
I am grateful to God… (II
Stephen Post (2005)
wrote on: "Atruism, happiness and health: It's good to be good."
And Wiederman (2007)
volunteer to help those in need tend to report feeling happier. Perhaps
it is because working with those less fortunate makes you grateful for
what you have. Also, volunteering often brings satisfaction and self
esteem, because you feel engaged in worthwhile work and are appreciated
by those you serve."
The Bible gets it
Happy are those
who consider the poor. (Psalm 41:1)
Always seek to do good to
one another and to all. (I Thessalonians 5:15)
Do not be hard-hearted or
tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. (Deuteronomy 15:7)
People are affected
by the moods, habits and health of people they associate with.
Michael Bond (2009)
"a whole range
of phenomena are transmitted through networks of friends in ways that
are not entirely understood: happiness and depression, obesity,
drinking and smoking habits, ill-health … even the tendency to think
about suicide… Furthermore, someone's chances of being happy increase
the better connected they are to happy people…"
The Bible teaches:
Do not be
deceived: Bad company ruins good morals. (I Corinthians 15:33)
Whoever walks with the
wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools suffers harm. (Proverbs
Do not envy the wicked,
do not desire to be with them… (Proverbs 24:1)
BRAIN and EXERCISE
partly depends on their genetic inheritance. The Weekend Australian
"The 5-HTT gene
helps nerve cells recycle the signaling chemical serotonin, which is
known to be linked to mood and depression… The research, reported in
the Journal of Human Genetics, compared the genetic types of more than
2500 participants with their reported satisfaction with life." (May
7-8, 2011, p. 19)
Another influence is
brain structure. Peter Farley in New Scientist (2004) reported that
only 50% of depressed patients get full relief with antidepressants and
the reason may be that the hippocampus, a region deep inside the brain,
is smaller in depressed people.
therefore are born happy; others have to work at happiness.
In the twentieth
century science believed that brain cells, "neurons", do not
regenerate. Fred Gage (1998) found this mistaken — neurons in the
hippocampus do regenerate, and exercise helps them regenerate. Farley
writes: "physical exercise — known to improve depressive symptoms —
could induce neurogenesis."
Julie Pasco et al
(2011) reported that regular exercise makes people not only fitter but
also happier — "This study reports that higher positive affect scores,
encompassing emotions such as interest, excitement, enthusiasm and
alertness, are associated with higher levels of habitual physical
activity." The study was based on 276 women who were classified as very
active, moderately active or sedentary and scored on how good they felt
The Bible says:
in godliness, for, while physical training is of some value,
godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the
present life and the life to come. (I Timothy 4:8)
The Bible encourages
physical activity by the sheer number of times the words "walk",
"walking" and "walked" occur in it — about 500 times.
That the brain can
change is reflected in the Bible's many calls for changed thinking such
- "God … commands all
people everywhere to repent";
- "Prepare your minds
- "Therefore walk in
the way of the good".
As important as
genes to happiness are physical activity and "godliness"!
Dan Jones (2010)
negative thinking. This is a technique borrowed from cognitive
behavioural therapy, in which you catch negative thoughts as they arise
and ask: 'Is there really reason to think like this? Can I reframe this
in a more positive way?'"
The Bible again gets
true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure,
whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any
excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about
these things. (Philippians 4:8)
When the cares
of my heart are many, your [God's] consolations cheer my soul. (Psalm
94:19; Ephesians 5:19-20)
Why do bad things
The Bible teaches
that evil is temporary. It is permitted by God because humans rebelled
against Him and think they don't need Him and He is letting them try to
prove it. The consequences are sickness, pain, hate, war, accidents and
every other evil. For the present these are part of life and influence
By telling of
salvation and eternal life and foretelling a "new heavens and new
earth", the Bible promotes hope in the future:
Rejoice in hope,
be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. (Romans
We boast in our hope
sharing the glory of God. (Romans 5:2)
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have
passed away. (Revelation 21:4)
This future is for
anyone who gets God's forgiveness for past bad behavior:
are those whose iniquities are forgiven and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the one against whom the Lord will not reckon sin. (Romans
(2013) wrote on, "5 Ways Hope Impacts Health & Happiness".
Yes, hope increases happiness.
Her "five ways"
refer to the present life. If, however, "hope" is the biblical hope for
eternity, the impact on happiness should be greater!
But is the Bible
reliable and biblical hope realistic? What's the proof?
We can test the
Bible by doing what we're doing in this article — that is, compare the
Bible with scientific discovery. But do this not just in psychology but
also in archaeology, astronomy, biology, ethics, history, logic,
medicine, pediatrics, zoology, etc. Hundreds of biblical claims can be
confirmed, and billions of people who disagreed with the Bible, or
ignored it, have already been proved wrong.
Constitution puts limits on national debt, in agreement with the Bible
— See Proverbs 22:7.
principles have been set in policy through the gross national happiness
index, based on equitable social development, cultural
preservation, conservation of the environment and promotion of good
The Bible says: "If
a king judges the poor with equity, his throne will be
established forever." The Bible considers the environment as God's
creation and teaches appreciation of it (Psalm 104), and also
advocates "good governance". (Proverbs 29:2, 4, 12, 14)
Constitution, therefore, agrees in parts with the Bible.
There is a
difference between knowing what is right and doing it. (James 1:25;
Dr. David Luechauer
(2013) who served as a college professor in Bhutan writes:
Bhutanese citizen does not enjoy even the most base level amenities,
health/human/social services, products, protections, or freedoms of
their counterparts living in GDP measuring nations … the vast majority
of Bhutanese are only paying lip service to GNH as they vigorously
pursue the goods, services, and lifestyle of their GDP measuring
Mental disorders, anxiety,
alcoholism, drug abuse, gang violence, and abuses
against women are increasing, and Bhutan's largest ethnic minority, the
Hindu Lhotshampa, experience Government suppression and forced
The Bible opposes anxiety
(Matthew 6:25-34), alcohol abuse (Proverbs 20:1), violence
(Proverbs 3:31; Titus 1:7; Habbakuk 1:1-3) and discrimination.
(Proverbs 18:5; 24:23-25; Colossians 3:11)
Israelites rejected the Laws of the Bible that applied to them (Isaiah
5:24; Jeremiah 8:8-9), and the New Testament similarly states that some
Christians would lose faith. (I Timothy 4:1; Acts 20:29-30)
When people default
on high standards and lose happiness, don't blame those standards. The
actions are faulty but the standards remain good. (Isaiah 55:7-9; Psalm
Constitution designates Buddhism as Bhutan's spiritual heritage but
also says His Majesty is the protector of all religions.
chapel opened in Thimphu in 1995. Christians nationwide number about
10,000 — mainly Nepalese. However, preaching to Bhutanese citizens can
lead to imprisonment and converts can lose their citizenship.
A 2010 Internet
Buddhist clerics … regional officials have intensified their repression
of the few existing house churches. Christians are forced to pledge in
writing not to gather to worship or to proselytize.
The penalties for defying
such undertakings include withdrawal of all state benefits, loss of
free education for their children, loss of promotion and training
opportunities, termination of employment, cancellation of trade
licenses, restriction of movement and, for repeated offences, exile.
The Bible foretold
that through the descendants of Abraham, God would "bless" all nations.
In fulfillment came Jesus Christ (Acts 3:25-26) whose followers
promoted morality and education, opposed evil laws, founded
universities, organized thousands of charities, and founded many
branches of science, thereby laying foundations for worldwide
prosperity that now also benefits Bhutan.
In restricting Christianity Bhutan forgets the historical origins of
its increasing prosperity.
The Bible says:
"Happy are those who find wisdom, and those who get understanding."
Constitution enshrines happiness; and the Bible teaches happiness.
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