The Coca-Cola Institute of Happiness, and the Prime Minister of Bhutan

Oh, my. Who knew that Coca-Cola has an Institute of Happiness in Madrid, where the beverage apparently scores high among Spaniards for making them so happy. (So much for that fabulous jambon and Tempranillo, huh?)

Amid the controversy in Bhutan that the ministers travel too much and rack up big plane ticket bills, here’s news of where the Prime Minister has been lately. Since Bhutan’s got a growing obesity problem, I wonder what he thinks about supporting the purveyor of one of the main culprits? According to this story, he seems to be happy with Coke’s “social responsibility.”

Thanks to Ralph for sending this from the FT.

Bhutan and Coke join hands for happiness

By Victor Mallet in Madrid

Published: October 22 2010 18:52 | Last updated: October 22 2010 18:52

The pursuit of gross national happiness as a measure of progress has been given a fillip by the world’s economic crisis, according to the prime minister of Bhutan, the landlocked Himalayan kingdom that launched the idea in the 1970s.

“Globally, the interest is growing, especially as a consequence of the economic downturn,” Jigme Thinley told the Financial Times, citing Japan and the US as nations where the concept was making headway.

He was in Spain to address the first Happiness Congress organised by the hitherto obscure Coca-Cola Institute of Happiness in Madrid. Mr Thinley told a packed theatre that humanity was heading for self-destruction in “a downward spiral of de-civilisation”.

“I’m so sorry I have to sound so serious talking about happiness,” said Mr Thinley. “But happiness is a very serious business.”

Various governments and prominent economists, including Richard Layard, of the London School of Economics, have sought to promote non-traditional measures of progress in recent years, arguing that the use of gross domestic product favours pointless consumerism over social well-being and environmental sustainability.

Two years ago, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France asked Joseph Stiglitz, Amartya Sen and Jean-Paul Fitoussi to set up what became the Commission on the measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress. It produced a report last year with 12 recommendations for improving the way progress was assessed.

Mr Thinley was asked if it was perverse to promote an alternative vision of society at an event organised by a gigantic consumer goods company.

He replied that Coca-Cola was not founded on altruism, but the world’s biggest soft drinks group was showing “social responsibility” by supporting the debate.

Coca-Cola in Spain acknowledges that the Institute of Happiness was established three years ago as a marketing tool after a consumer survey found Coke to be the brand most closely associated by Spaniards with happiness.

However, company executives point out that the proceeds of the two-day conference – addressed by doctors, philosophers and Edurne Pasaban, the record-breaking mountaineer – will go to a children’s charity.

Mr Thinley, a Buddhist, gave a keynote speech on “happiness in difficult times”, saying the economic crisis had made people more contemplative and humble, while showing that many of the supposed financial achievements of recent years had been illusory.

“Our economic models are greatly, deeply flawed,” he said. “They are not sustainable.”

Bhutan has been a constitutional monarchy since elections in 2007 and 2008. But critics say it remains a paternalistic state and the authorities are accused of persecuting ethnic Nepalese and forcing thousands to flee.

Mr Thinley rejected the suggestion that Bhutan was a mountain version of authoritarian Singapore.

“When we say happiness, it has got nothing to do with the government telling people to be happy or telling them how to be happy,” he told the Financial Times.

“It’s not distributing happiness or conditioning the minds of the people, it’s simply facilitating that pursuit,” he added.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010. You may share using our article tools. Please don’t cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web

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One thought on “The Coca-Cola Institute of Happiness, and the Prime Minister of Bhutan

  1. Bill Weller says:

    Because there is a “growing obesity problem” in Bhutan, perhaps there should be a new definition of “Gross” National Happiness!

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