(Investigator 160, 2015 January)


Bhutan is a Himalayan country whose government aims to maximize the happiness of its citizens.

A Guide to the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan says:
In the pursuit of Gross National Happiness, the state is guided by the policies to enhance social justice, spiritual well-being and socio economic growth.
America's 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 which says: "Happy are the 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.


Area: 47,000 square kilometres
Population:  744,000
Capital city: Thimphu; 80,000 inhabitants
Government: Constitutional monarchy
Ethnic groups: Bhutanese and Nepali
Religions: Buddhism (75%) and Hinduism

The Himalayan 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 Wangchuk.

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 environment."

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.

Strictly monitored 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 (2002).

Seligman's new emphasis caught on. Carlin Flora (2009) says only 50 books on happiness were published in 2000, but 4000 books in 2008.

Happiness books became popular because depression is common. Kathleen McGowan (2009) writes that 15 million Americans experience major depression:
"Major 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) writes:
"The World Health Organization has predicted that it [depression] will be the second most devastating disease in the world by 2020…"
Depression can shorten life or kill by suicide. Reporter Callie Watson (2010) reported:
"An Australian 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?


Conventional economics assumes that increased Gross Domestic Product improves people's lives.

Psychologist Robert 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.

Supporting Lane's 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 teaching:
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)
Michael Wiederman (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 minimizing pain.

Aristotle (384-322 BCE) in contrast equated happiness with maximizing one's personal excellence or "virtue" and using it to improve society.

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 happiness.

The result:  Virtue-building was associated with increased happiness; pleasure-seeking was not.

The Bible teaches virtue — but also demands more:
Whatever is 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)


Helen Phillips (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 happiness..."

The Bible agrees and teaches:
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 never had.

Psychology professor 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:
And be thankful. (Colossians 3:15)

Entirely out of place is obscene, silly, and vulgar talk; but instead let there be thanksgiving. (Ephesians 5:4)

Thanks be to God for his indescribable free gift. (II Corinthians (9:15)

I am grateful to God… (II Timothy 1:3)


Stephen Post (2005) wrote on: "Atruism, happiness and health: It's good to be good."

And Wiederman (2007) says:
"People who 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 right:
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) writes:
"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 13:20)
Do not envy the wicked, do not desire to be with them… (Proverbs 24:1)


People's happiness partly depends on their genetic inheritance. The Weekend Australian reported:
"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.

Some 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 about themselves.

The Bible says:
Train yourself 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 as:
  As important as genes to happiness are physical activity and "godliness"!


Dan Jones (2010) writes:
"Dispute 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 it right:
Whatever is 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 happen?

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 people's moods.

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 12:12)
We boast in our hope of 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:
Blessed [Happy] are those whose iniquities are forgiven and whose sins are covered; blessed is the one against whom the Lord will not reckon sin. (Romans 4:7-8)
Paula Davis-Laack (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.


Bhutan's Constitution puts limits on national debt, in agreement with the Bible — See Proverbs 22:7.

 Annie Kelly writes:
Bhutan's 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 governance….
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)

Bhutan's Constitution, therefore, agrees in parts with the Bible.


There is a difference between knowing what is right and doing it. (James 1:25; 4:17)

Dr. David Luechauer (2013) who served as a college professor in Bhutan writes:
"…the typical 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 counterparts."
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 emigration.

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)

Many ancient 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 25:10)


Bhutan's Constitution designates Buddhism as Bhutan's spiritual heritage but also says His Majesty is the protector of all religions.

A Catholic 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 report says:
Encouraged by 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. (Genesis 18:18)

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." (Proverbs 3:13)

Bhutan's Constitution enshrines happiness; and the Bible teaches happiness.


Bayley, E. The Deadly Rise of Depression, Focus, January 2008, 35-40

Bond, M. Three degrees of contagion, New Scientist, 3 January, 2009, 24-27

Davis-Laack, P.  5 Ways Hope Impacts Health & Happiness, Psychology Today, 5 March, 2013

Emmons, R.A. 2007 Thanks! How The New Science Of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, Houghton

Farley, P. The anatomy of despair, New Scientist, 1 May, 2004, 43-45

Flora, C. The Pursuit of Happiness, Psychology Today, January/February, 2009, 61-69

Froh, J. et al. Gratitude and the Reduced Costs of Materialism in Adolescents, Journal of Happiness Studies, 2011, 12 (2), 289-302

Gage, F.H. Neurogenesis in the adult human hippocampus, Nature Medicine 4 (1998) 1313-1317

Jones, D. Be Happy, New Scientist, 25 September, 2010, 44-47

Lane, R.E. 2001 The Loss of Happiness in Market Democracies, Yale University

Leuchauer, D.L. The False Promises of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness, Global South Development Magazine, July 21, 2013

McGowan, K. Good Morning, Heart ache, Psychology Today, March/April 2009, 76-83

Pasco, J.A. et al. Don't Worry, be Active: Positive Affect and Habitual Physical Activity, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 2011, Volume 45 (12), 1047-1052

Phillips, H. Resist! New Scientist, 13 September, 2008, 40-43

Post, S.G. Altruism, happiness and health: It's good to be good, International Journal of Behavioural Medicine, 2005, 12 (2), 66-77

Seligman, M.E.P. 2002 Authentic Happiness, Simon & Schuster

Steger, M. et al. Being Good by Doing Good… Journal of Research in Personality 42 (1), 2008 22-42

The Weekend Australian, February 10-11, 2007, 16, Bhutan out from India’s Shadow

Watson, C. Depression is no joke for blokes, The Advertiser, 20 December 2010, p. 15)

Wiederman, M. Why It's So Hard to be Happy, Scientific American Mind, February/March, 2007 36-43


Kelly, A.

Ura, K et al 2012 An Extensive Analysis of GNH Index, Centre for Bhutan Studies Extensive Analysis of GNH Index.pdf