Gross National Happiness (GNH) In Education and Business Report

Gross National Happiness (GNH) In Education and Business: March 2018

Applying Gross National Happiness in Education and Business: from personal reflection to organizational change

Happiness has been a fascinating topic in the last decade. Bhutan, known as one of the happiest nations in the world, has reflected its development based on Gross National Happiness Index, in which monetary measure is not as crucial as the nation’s general happiness and wellbeing.

The workshop on “Gross National Happiness (GNH): “A new perspective on development in Education and Business” happened in February 24th – 27th 2018 at the Museum of Muong’s Cultural Space in Hoa Binh province, Vietnam. During the 3-day workshop, 3 main subjects were delivered:

  1. A concise introduction of the GNH framework
  2. Ways how to apply GNH for personal reflection
  3. Ways how to apply GNH for organizational change 

The workshop lead by Dr. Tho Ha Vinh, Chairman of Eurasia Foundation & Association, Eurasia Learning Institute (ELI), Bhutan Former GNH’s Program Director. It was organized by ELI with the logistic support of TOHE team.

Getting to know Gross National Happiness

All human beings aspire to be happy, and as the philosopher Aristoteles is often cited to have said:

“Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence”.

From the motto of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam: “Independence, Freedom, Happiness”. Dr. Tho adds this quote that “we must first understand the suffering and the causes of suffering” in order to be happy.

This was the start of the workshop. Dr. Tho suggested that suffering happens because of our separation from our true being, from others and from nature. They are called the Spiritual Divide, the Social Divide and the Natural Devide, respectively.

This suffering, considered as the challenges of our time, leads to the introduction of Gross National Happiness framework. 4 pillars were introduced as the medicine for the illness of our time: environmental conversation, cultural & spiritual preservation, good governance and equitable & sustainable economic growth. They create main structure of the GNH paradigm.

These pillars were expanded to 9 domains, which are the indicators of the framework such as living standards, psychological wellbeing, education, time use, health, ecological conservation and resilience, cultural preservation and resilience, community vitality and good governance. These 9 domains are equally weighted and carry the same level of importance to estimate the citizens’ contentment.

Grounded in mindfulness and deep listening

In the workshop, the participants were encouraged to be in a mindful state to fully comprehend the knowledge and the happiness skills’ practice.

Mindfulness thus was the foundation of all activities. Every day, the workshop started with a sitting and a walking meditation. Participants gathered in the early morning in traditional Muong-style venue to be guided through sitting meditation. The practice of walking meditation was in the cultural atmosphere of Muong community. With each step, the participants were asked to be completely present. Connecting to mother nature and walking continuously like the flow of a river.

Moreover we, the ELI team, offered the practice of deep listening, which was emphasized as the crucial skill for the participants to exercise happiness skills and work with others. In the workshop we talked about the true way to listening, where listeners must incorporate their listening with an open mind, open heart and open will.


A personal exposure to Happiness

To help participants take in the practice of GNH for their personal reflection, many exercises were given. One of them was to estimate their personal happiness by GNH’s 9 indicators. From that, each participant had a map created by the scores (from 1 to 10) they gave to each domain.

Some participants surprised with their map. A founder of a company said: “I’m surprised that my cultural indicator is the lowest. I rarely have many activities related to nurture my cultural understanding like learning a new dance or visiting a museum”.

An employee of TOHE remarked: “The map shows me that my strongest indicator is education. I am learning so much knowledge every day and I’m happy about it.”

Another activity that reconnected the participants with themselves, with others and with nature was the Dialogue Walk and Solo Walk, tools given through Theory-U. To prepare for this activity, they had jotted down their answers for 13 questions related to their challenges, frustration, energy, inner resistance, etc.

In the Dialogue Walk, each participant would find a partner to wander into the park together and take turn to share the answers. The pair would practice deep listening to their partner’s say and share their own story with honesty and courage.

In the Solo Walk, the participants separated into different directions to enjoy their personal reflection. An HR manager of an international school in Hanoi remarked: “I sat myself on the top of a hill where I had an elaborate look at everything below. It somehow relates to my position as an HR manager, in which I need to perceive how everything works in a big picture with an open heart and open mind”.

Organizational reflection and moving forward

On the last day, the participants gathered in groups and started planning how to initially bring GNH to their organization. Luckily, a few organizations joined us with a whole team. In this group discussion they were able to reflect and brainstorm together.

  1. A tourist company: Their goal is to bring awareness of environmental conversation to their staff by taking actions like preventing first-time usage bottle, banning plastic bags, heading to zero-waste lifestyle and using organic products.
  2. Another company: “We want to strengthen connection between local and foreign staff so they learn to appreciate differences and embrace them as a strength rather than distance”, said the Founder.
  3. TOHE, an artistic company with a group of youthful creative staff, presented some very inspirational ideas of how to increase the staff’s psychological wellbeing such as weekly tea meditation, giving staff free ticket to musical concerts, meditation club, Monday sharing circle and silent day.

No matter which domain each organization started with, the participants have put the happiness and wellbeing of their community and their customers as the priority. This is a wonderful act that shows organizational change can be made possible by a group of people having the same vision and values. In other words, it is possible if conducted by a sensible and vibrant community.   


“I want to nurture the seed of…”

We closed the workshop in a very simple way, by asking one final request: “What seed do you want to nurture?”

Each person took turn to say his/her answer. The seeds of compassion, patience, happiness, acceptance, etc. were mentioned in a happy mood. Together we may nurture all our seeds to grow into a beautiful garden.

Everyone smiled. That was a remarkable end for all what the participants had experienced during the retreat.

The ELI team would like to express our gratitude to our partner TOHE, to our dear friends who prepared with us and thank you to all participants for co-creating the space together!