Michael J. Fox and Gross National Happiness
Friday May 8, 2009
Last night I watched the Michael J. Fox ABC special Adventures of an Incurable Optimist — a companion piece to his new book, “Always Looking Up.” Fox’s goal: to figure out why some people are optimistic and how being hopeful and positive affects happiness and quality of life. Certainly, he speaks from experience as he publicly battles the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s disease but carries on with grace and humor.
The thing that really struck me was his trip to Bhutan. Apparently, this small Buddhist nation situated between China and India has a government policy that dictates happiness. Instead of a Gross National Product, they’ve adopted the idea of Gross National Happiness. According to an article in this week’s New York Times, the Bhutanese constitution clearly states that government programs should be judged by the happiness they bring rather than by the economic benefit. And Bhutan’s Prime Minister Jigme Thinley says things like this: “Happiness is complete well-being…being content with what is and with what one has.” Wow.
But the remarkable kicker came later in the segment, when Fox, who traveled to Bhutan to report the story, discovers being surrounded by such happiness diminished his Parkinson symptoms. He could hike up a mountain, the jerking motions that plague him dissipated and in general, this natural optimist just felt better.
This certainly validates what we all know intuitively — being surrounded by happiness is infectious, smiles are contagious, and all that good positive stuff.
But Fox took it a step further when he consulted a scientist who has isolated a gene that predisposes one to optimism. We’re not surprised to learn that Fox is a carrier — its in his DNA. Which begs the question; is optimism a matter of nature or nurture?