Last night, The Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson completed the last in her series of five 2014 CBC Massey lectures, and my sister, Mom and I were there to hear it.* Clarkson has a way of making people feel as if they could be better. As I listened to her measured words, I sat up a little straighter and considered the ways in which I could be a better citizen, more tolerant, generous and ethical. On the way to the lecture, I could’ve used Adrienne’s encouraging voice to steady me during the rush hour drive into the city where it was slow-to-go on the 401, and then bumper-to-bumper gridlock all the way down Avenue Rd. to Bloor. I swore the air blue (right in front of my poor Mom) as I navigated past the jerk who parked his car in a no parking zone in the right lane, causing everyone to have to swerve around him. He wasn’t the only one I swore at. If I had had the opportunity to chat with some of the annoying drivers around me, ethics, tolerance and generosity might not have been my strongest suits.
Due to the crazy traffic, we missed the first five minutes of Clarkson’s talk at the beautiful Koerner Hall in the Royal Conservatory of Music but there was no problem; we were able to catch up to the gist of things quickly.
Turns out Clarkson wants us to all move to Bhutan where the citizens strive to achieve a higher Gross National Happiness quotient. Apparently, Bhutan measures its prosperity by tracking its citizens’ happiness levels, rather than focussing primarily on the GDP. The government there is interested in improving the nine identified domains of happiness which include health, education, good governance, time use, living standards, community vitality, the environment, psychology and cultural diversity.
Or, in lieu of packing our toothbrushes and booking flights, Clarkson suggests we might try ramping up some of these happiness-inducing things here at home. I don’t think it could hurt. However, I’m not so sure Bhutan is all it’s cracked up to be: it is still one of the poorest nations on earth. The literacy rate is 59%. Life expectancy is 62.2. According to guest contributor Dr. David L. Luechauer in an online article entitled The False Promises of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness (Global South Development Magazine), “the typical Bhutanese citizen does not enjoy even the most base level amenities, health/human/social services, products, protections, or freedoms of their counterparts living in GDP measuring nations.”
A lack of “base level amenities” means good luck getting private indoor plumbing, hot water and reliable electric service at your house.
Well. Count me out. My toothbrush is staying right where it sits, in its pristine cup on the shining counter of my bathroom, the room in the house I love the best.
I happen to adore private plumbing. And I appreciate it with every fibre of my being. The fact that the majority of the world’s population has to share with the whole extended family or neighbourhood, or use the great outdoors, is not at all lost on me.
According to an article in Time, a recent UN study showed that more people on earth have access to cell phones than toilets. Out of the world’s estimated 7 billion people, 6 billion have access to mobile phones. Far fewer — only 4.5 billion people — have access to working toilets.
If I had to live on a deserted island for a year, forget the cell phone: the top thing I would take with me is my bathroom, complete with all its varied magical products and supplies. I especially love my bathtub with its steaming hot water, candles on the ledge, lavender-scented bubbles and the lock on the door that keeps everyone out. The dog can lie outside the door, nose pressed to the gap and whining all he wants, but he is not welcome into my sanctuary of bliss.
In my world view, Gross Personal Happiness is tightly bound to whether the roll holder in my favourite room of the house is full or empty.
* Try Something New Every Day