Notes from Bhutan: Sewing is the Secret to Happiness

We’re in Bhutan, the Dragon Kingdom, looking for the sources and secrets to happiness in this small Himalayan nation that has made happiness its ultimate development goal.  As ‘brand Bhutan’ declares,  “Happiness is a Place”.  And it’s here.

 

And you know the secret to happiness? It’s sewing.  To SEW is to be happy. The realisation came to us as we were visiting a sustainable craft workshop in the capital Thimphu, where women were stitching, tailoring and embroidering colourful garments, baskets and accessories. In Bhutanese this sewing activity is called “Tshem-zo“, one of the 13 protected and promoted creative arts and crafts of Bhutan.

Sewing may be a rewarding activity, but to SEW is also a useful mnemonic for the three key ingredients of happiness – feeling Satisfied with your life, Enjoying life’s experiences, and feeling that the things you do in your life are Worthwhile. To SEW is to be happy.

These three ingredients, satisfaction, enjoyment and feeling the things we do are worthwhile are the three core dimensions of happiness captured in psychological scales designed to measure individual happiness, and are endorsed by the OECD and other bodies measuring human wellbeing (in psychobabble, these three questions capture the hedonic (experiential and evaluative) and eudaimonic aspects of subjective wellbeing).

So after the Bhutanese king famously claimed back in 1972 that Gross National Happiness (GNH) is more important than Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Bhutan realised if it was serious about citizen happiness it would need to measure it.  Although the resulting GNH Index measures not only citizen happiness but also the enabling conditions for happiness to flourish in Bhutan, SEWing is a core component of the measure.

So to measure your own happiness, ask yourself if you SEW

  1. “All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life as a whole?”
    on an 11-point scale from 0 (completely dissatisfied) to 10 (completely satisfied)
  2. Overall, how much did you enjoy* your day yesterday?
    on an 11-point scale from 0 (not at all) to 10 (completely)
  3. Overall, to what extent do you feel that the things you do in your life are worthwhile?
    on an 11-point scale from 0 (not at all worthwhile) to 10 (completely worthwhile)

* Where enjoy means to experience lots of positive feelings and few negative feelings

Total up your score – for a happiness score out of 30.  Multiply by 3.3 to get a percentage score out of 100 of how happy you are.

We know higher scores are associated with better health, longer life expectancy, with decreased chronic pain, increased immune activity, and better cardiovascular health and decreased likelihood of diabetes, stroke, cancer mortality, and fatal accidents. Higher scores are also associated with better social relationships; more friends, increased likelihood of being appreciated as more warm and intelligent and less selfish, and are more likely to get assistance and trust. Higher scores for people who get married are less likely to get divorced and feel more love and fulfilment. Finally, higher scores are associated with more creativity and innovation for us and our subordinates at work, if we happen to be managers (if you are curious about the evidence-based benefits of happiness – we unreservedly recommend this free online Berkeley course on Edx – the science of happiness).

In short, happiness matters.  And it’s all about SEWing.

Note for businesses.  These three questions could be easily adapted to measure the client, employee or user happiness. Just as Bhutan is serious about citizen happiness, if your business is serious about client happiness, employee happiness or user happiness, then you’ll need to measure it.  The SEW framework gives you a simple way to do this that is consistent with the psychology of happiness.

Client Happiness

“All things considered, how satisfied are you with the outcome of this project as a whole?”
on an 11-point scale from 0 (completely dissatisfied) to 10 (completely satisfied)

“Overall, how much did you enjoy working with us during this project?”
on an 11-point scale from 0 (not at all) to 10 (completely)

“Overall, to what extent do you feel that running this project was worthwhile?”
on an 11-point scale from 0 (not at all worthwhile) to 10 (completely worthwhile)

Employee Happiness

“All things considered, how satisfied are you with your work life here as a whole?”
on an 11-point scale from 0 (completely dissatisfied) to 10 (completely satisfied)

“Overall, how much did you enjoy* your day at work yesterday?
on an 11-point scale from 0 (not at all) to 10 (completely)

Overall, to what extent do you feel that the things you at work are worthwhile?
on an 11-point scale from 0 (not at all worthwhile) to 10 (completely worthwhile)

User Happiness

“All things considered, how satisfied are you with this product/service?”
on an 11-point scale from 0 (completely dissatisfied) to 10 (completely satisfied)

“Overall, how much did you enjoy* using this product/service?
on an 11-point scale from 0 (not at all) to 10 (completely)

Overall, to what extent do you feel that using this product/service is worthwhile?
on an 11-point scale from 0 (not at all worthwhile) to 10 (completely worthwhile)

So now you know, the secret to happiness is sewing.

 

Written by
Paul Marsden

Chartered psychologist specialising in consumer behaviour, wellbeing and technology. Certified CX professional experienced in Design Thinking. A researcher, writer and speaker, Paul is head of Digital Insight at SYZYGY.

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Written by Paul Marsden