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Giving thanks, facing death, and other ways to increase happiness during life

Bhutan is an independent state in Southeast Asia, bordered by China to the north and India to the south.  Nestled in the Himalayas, Bhutan is the last remaining Buddhist state in the world. But one of the most unique aspects of Bhutanese government is the country’s use of the Gross National Happiness (GNH) Index to measure the society’s level of happiness.

The country reports 91.2% of Bhutanese are narrowly, extensively, or deeply happy. What could be causing all this happiness in Bhutan?

The prime minister believes there are a few things at play in Bhutan’s culture that help its citizens to report high levels at happiness.

Being Thankful for Experiences, Not Things

As less content citizens of a richer nation something we can learn from the Bhutanese is that more money does not equal more happiness. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has praised Bhutan for focusing its people on the combined experiences of their lives, rather than just their economy, “GNP [Gross National Product] fails to take into account the social and environmental costs of so-called progress. …  Social, economic and environmental well-being are indivisible. Together they define gross global happiness.”

Here in the U.S., Bob Emmons, Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Davis, believes the benefits of practicing gratitude are so great, everyone should give daily meditation on their thankfulness a try. Davis, a leading researcher in the field of gratitude and author of Thanks: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier says, “First, the practice of gratitude can increase happiness levels by around 25%. Second, this is not hard to achieve. A few hours writing a gratitude journal over 3 weeks can create an effect that lasts 6 months if not more. Third, cultivating gratitude brings other health effects, such as longer and better quality sleep time.”

As a firm, we’ve been reflecting all month long on the appreciation we feel for the people we’ve met and the experiences we’ve had working with them over the year. Our overwhelming gratefulness led us to create our “Giving Thanks Campaign,” but stopping to smell the roses is also something we try to incorporate into our daily lives as people.

Volunteering Makes us Feel Happy

In Bhutan, to feel good, one does good. The kindness that someone extend to another provides a long lasting good feeling to the giver that no one can take away. It’s been said, “A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds.”  Dr. Stephen Post, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University and founder of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, researches good deeds, what we call altruism. His studies show that when we give, everything from mental fulfillment to physical health is improved: depression is reduced, well-being and good fortune are increased, even death is delayed.

It’s a small start, but we hope our friends and partners will join as we strive for this in giving of ourselves to the most in need in our community. We’re collecting and donating for Buddy Dog Humane Society, Inc., to support their mission of placement of stray, homeless, and unwanted dogs and cats as pets in suitable homes.

Paula and I are also making a financial contribution to the organization to mark this year’s Giving Tuesday. It makes us happy to know that what we have to give can help the people who work so hard for others.

Facing the Eventuality of Death

Culturally, the Bhutanese are “expected to think about death five times a day.” Some people feel that reflecting on death causes greater focus and increased appreciation for life.

Consider an article written by Eric Weiner for the BBC. Weiner cites research that seems to demonstrate a connection between thinking about death and positive thoughts. He also argued that “Unlike many of us in the West, the Bhutanese don’t sequester death. Death—and images of death—are everywhere.”

It’s true: Confronting the thing we fear the most can be incredibly freeing. For example, planning for death brings the peace of mind knowing we are prepared for it when the time comes. There is great satisfaction in life, ensuring our families will be provided for and our assets will be tended to, no matter what.

When you’re ready to take that step, as your Personal Family Lawyer® have sensitive strategies to guide you as you think about the simple and natural part of life that is death, and are able to help you move forward with planning in a way that will focus on the experiences and people that matter most to you.

To your family’s health, wealth and happiness!


David Feakes

P.S.  Want to get started on the most important planning you’ll ever do for your family?  Give our office a call at (978) 263-6900 to get started.  You’ll be so glad you did.

David Feakes is the owner of The Parents Estate Planning Law Firm, PC – a law firm for families in the Acton, Massachusetts area.  David helps parents protect the people they love the most.  If you would like to receive David’s exclusive, free report, “Six Major Mistakes To Avoid When Choosing An Estate Planning Attorney,”  you can get it right here

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