We could learn from Bhutan. I hope they can learn from us.
The tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is in the throes of switching to democracy over the protests of reluctant citizens. The switch is the king's idea.
Bhutan's King Jigme Singye Wangchuck is best known for coining the term Gross National Happiness (GNH) in 1972 when he took the throne.
At his urging, the nation embraced GNH as an objective. The four pillars of GNH are the promotion of equitable and sustainable socio-economic development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and establishment of good governance.
Some of our major unions have been raising awareness about the effects of our trade policies and purchasing habits.
Slowly, the idea has spread around the world that there ought to be better ways to measure human happiness and well-being than stark economic yardsticks like gross domestic product (GDP). After all, GDP stats often accrue for negative reasons like wars, prisons, gambling, or tobacco use.
Various ways to measure progress and well-being have been proposed, including the Genuine Progress Indicator, which has been researched, developed and promoted extensively in Canada and Europe.
As we enter The Tunnel that includes the holidays, the dark days, the ebbing of the old year and the start of a new one, it's worth reflecting on how we ourselves can contribute to gross happiness, local, national and international.
The rash of stories about toxic imported toys and foods has given many people myself included a good place to start, because this is the time of year to buy toys.
Toxic toys raise troubling questions about the foundations of our society. Where were they made? What's in them? What are the lives and working conditions like of the workers who made them? Does the factory where they were made pollute? Does it really produce any happiness to purchase a gift made by virtual slaves chained to the demands of giant corporations that don't care whose family suffers or what river dies?
Some of our major unions helping people discuss GNH-related questions. The United Steelworkers are conducting workshops in cities across Canada through their Stop Toxic Imports campaign. They are distributing a lead testing kit to help people identify and avoid dangerous products. Members of the union have been holding Get the Lead Out parties to raise awareness about toys and other imports.
The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) has been raising awareness of the costs of laissez-faire trade. They say that part of the problem on which the Steelworkers are focusing is cuts to federal science and inspection programs. The same politicians promoting irresponsible trade also have promoted cutting the jobs of public servants who protect public health and safety.
The Steelworkers and PIPSC understand that it's not a long step from thinking about toys to thinking about all the other products we buy and consume that are produced in unacceptable conditions. I don't kid myself that the production of my computer keyboard contributed to anyone's happiness, for instance. I wish I had a choice, but tilted trade laws prevent that.
If you look, you can actually still buy toys made of wood and other safe materials. I wish I could buy a wooden keyboard, or car. Clearly, we are not going to be able to spread happiness with all of our choices, but we can try.
Ish Theilheimer has been Publisher of the leading, and oldest, independent Canadian online newsmagazine, StraightGoods.ca, since founding it in September 1999. He lives in Golden Lake, ON, in the Ottawa Valley.