Right, that’s it, I’ve had enough. I’m quitting my job and I’m going to cycle to Bhutan…
Perhaps the idea of cycling to Bhutan, a far flung country in the Himalayas, may seem a little absurd! Yet, cycling to Bhutan is probably about the best use of my time I can think of right now. Let me explain.
Bhutan is a spectacularly beautiful country and has come to be known by many for giving rise to the term Gross National Happiness. Gross National Happiness is a term that the Bhutanese use to explicitly indicate that the ultimate goal in their society is to promote well-being.
Surely, one might think, all governments have improving people’s well-being at heart. Alas, it seems not. Many countries appear more interested in trying to maximise their Gross National Product – the amount of things (goods and services) produced – to see growth year in year out. It is a misguided belief to think that rises in Gross National Product are synonymous with rises in well-being.
There is a time in a countries development when improving material conditions is of paramount importance for well-being as it can help people to meet their basic needs. An increase in Gross National Product (accounting for inequality, environmental degradation, and other social ills) can give some indication of whether progress is being made. However, for many countries any coupling between output and well-being has long since past. Simply producing and consuming more is not the key to greater happiness.
My journey thus far…
For well over ten years I’ve been carrying out academic research to explore how happiness and well-being are influenced by a person’s economic circumstances. Although I have some good ideas and I seem to publish reasonably well there has always been a question burning deep in my heart as to whether my research means much outside of the academic community in which I mostly inhabit.
Unfortunately, my experience of research and how it is conducted, particularly within my main research area of money and happiness, is that research can tend to confuse and obscure rather than clarify and enlighten (see my frustrations about the academic debate around money and happiness). I’m dissatisfied, exhausted, a bit angry even, and I have been wondering whether what I’ve been doing these past years is the most meaningful use of my time.
Coming back to the self and living authentically
An idea that has supported me in my research career is that although my ability to inspire others to seek different ways of living with my research might be limited, I can at least try my best to incorporate my research ideas into my own life – to practice what I preach, to live authentically, to be the change I want to see in the world.
I have made a conscious effort to live in line with my research into well-being – for example, decreasing my reliance on money, and permitting my-self more time to concentrate on the things that have been demonstrated to be far more important than money for greater well-being – family and friends, mental and physical health, developing my personality. I’ve been writing about some of my personal process on this blog.
But there is one very important change I still need to make
Another crucial contributor to well-being is having a job that is meaningful to the person that does it. Sadly, for reasons expressed above, I don’t feel that this is the case for me right now and I need to make some changes. I feel safe and comfortable in this academic world and it would be easy for me to remain here. Yet I know deep in my heart that I need to be doing something that brings me more fulfilment, more purpose. It feels really scary that, at the moment, other than cycling to Bhutan, I don’t really have a clear idea of what that something is. However, I trust that once I let go of the comfort, safety, and some of the fear, then I will be free enough to find out what that is.
The journey, not the destination
I’m intending to begin my cycle to Bhutan from South America (up the west coast of the Americas and then hopefully I’ll take a boat over to Asia). However, it is not really about Bhutan. My choice to have Bhutan as a destination is mostly symbolic, to remind me of why I’m travelling. It is not about the destination, it rarely ever is – it is about the journey, it is about the process. My experience has taught me that the achievement of a goal rarely gives the satisfaction I think it will – what is more important is whether I enjoyed how I got wherever I get to, and whether I learnt something about myself along the way, regardless of whether I achieved what I thought I wanted to or not.
A travel with happiness
What I am really interested in is finding meaning, purpose, and happiness along the way, and Bhutan as a destination will remind me of my intention to travel with happiness.
There are ways to travel…
…that support the well-being of myself and others and there are ways that do not. I want to travel in the ways that do. In a way that fosters deep connections with those that I encounter, that minimises the environmental impact on the places that I visit, and that gives back to others in non-monetary ways more than it takes. I hope the simplicity of travelling by bike, carrying a tent and a stove, as it has done in the past for me, will enable this.
There are places to visit…
…where there are attempts to do things differently – to baulk the mainstream global agenda of simply trying to increase the amount produced and consumed. Bhutan, with its focus on Gross National Happiness, is just one of them. There is Costa Rica, that has consistently ranked top of the Happy Planet Index; meaning that they produce happy citizens without using up more than their fair share of the earth’s resources to do so. There is Columbia, where, despite years of conflict, citizens report some of the highest levels of well-being in the world. There are the people native to the Amazon jungle who, despite encroachment on their land and culture, still practice traditional ways of deep healing and are willing to share that rich knowledge. Then there is Canada, where an Index of Wellbeing has been developed that can be used to indicate whether life is really improving for citizens in the ways that are important and also provide direct links to policy as to how to best achieve this progress. There are many things happening that give hope for a more beautiful world that many would like to live in.
There are conversations to be had…
…with people who are interested in implementing policies that genuinely promote happiness and well-being in their locality. I’d like to bring my research knowledge to those who do have some power to change things and want to begin doing things differently. Courage is needed and perhaps I might be able to help in that process.
There is a story…
…about a bold attempt to find some personal meaning and integrate all that I am and have been for the last years carrying out research into well-being. A story about striving for authenticity, about connection, about happiness, that I will share with others and remain open-hearted as to where that may lead.
Every second, no matter how dark and desperate I feel, I know there is an opportunity to choose something different. I often miss that opportunity because I don’t, can’t, or won’t see it. It is a struggle, it takes courage, no matter who I am or where I am coming from in a certain moment. Right now I am choosing Bhutan and it seems to me like the best thing I – an ever so slightly disillusioned well-being researcher – could be doing with my time…
***Thank you for reading my blog post. If you like what I’m doing and want to hear more then please follow my blog as I intend to write about my journey as I go. I’m also on Facebook and Twitter. And feel free to say hello and who knows perhaps we will connect somehow on my journey.