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Does wealth equal happiness?

Does wealth equal happiness? This thought-provoking question has been raised by Dr. Julia Kim, a global health and sustainable development specialist and a Senior Program Advisor at the Gross National Happiness (GNH) Centre in Bhutan.

The GNH Centre aims to integrate the principles of environmental conservation, cultural resilience, good governance, and equitable and sustainable socioeconomic development into the spheres of business, government, and civil society.In her capacity as a Senior Program Advisor, Dr. Kim has been leading a range of programs, including leadership development initiatives, multi-country education projects, and economics programs that seek to realign the values of work and entrepreneurship towards building a more sustainable and compassionate society. She is also engaged in working with young people in Bhutan, guiding them through the concept that, in order to change the world around us, we have to start with ourselves through mindfulness and compassion practices.

Dr. Kim raises the issue that, in our modern culture, we often equate happiness with the acquisition of material goods. Many people think if we have more money, we’ll automatically be better off and happier. For example, when we have the money to buy something we think we really need, it gives us a temporary high. However, these pleasant and even euphoric spikes of happiness seldom last and we are deceiving ourselves if we believe that material possessions will lead us on the road to true happiness. And when we extend our idea of personal happiness on a global scale, we start to realize that there is a great deal of unhappiness in our world, regardless of wealth acquisition.

Our global community is now experiencing a growing alienation and inequality in our social systems, which in turn is leading to a great deal of social unrest around the world. There is a strong feeling of discontent because of the perception that the rich are getting richer, and are therefore happier, while the poor are getting poorer. As a result of these crises, more and more people are now challenging whether our governments really do have our best interests at heart.


Most people are familiar with the principle of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a measure of economic progress and development in every country. However, as Dr. Kim points out, the GDP is a flawed concept in many ways because it focuses solely on a country’s economic prosperity rather than taking into account the happiness and wellbeing of its citizens.

Dr. Kim addresses why Bhutan’s unique Gross National Happiness philosophy is a counterpoint to gross domestic product. Gross National Happiness takes a more realistic approach to measuring human progress that GDP does not capture. GNH’s ideology includes some very unique measures that are essential to keep track of, such as environmental sustainability, our work-life balance, cultural diversity, and good governance.

In terms of following the GNH model, Dr. Kim emphasizes the importance of happiness and wellbeing as a deeper, more permanent sense of connection and contentment. She encourages us to focus on developing Gross National Happiness, not just gross domestic product.

Dr. Kim stresses the importance of making small shifts in our individual thinking process, which in turn will lead to an application of these mind shifts on a global scale. With this in mind, Dr. Kim offers a quote from Albert Einstein: “The world as we created it is a product of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”

Watch an excellent video of Dr. Julia Kim speaking on the GNH of Bhutan.

Julia Kim, MD, is a global health and sustainable development specialist. She is currently a Senior Program Advisor at the GNH Centre in Bhutan leading a range of programs including: the “Global Wellbeing and GNH Lab” (with GIZ/BMZ and the Presencing Institute). Dr. Kim graduated from Cornell University, is a Specialist in Internal Medicine and Community-Oriented Primary Care (Tufts University School of Medicine) and holds a MSc. in Public Health in Developing Countries (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine).

Dr. Julia Kim


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