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A Literally Novel Approach to Spreading the GNH Message

R. Vania’s new novel that centers around Gross National Happiness.

Editor’s note: When author R. Vania recently sent GNHUSA a copy of her new new novel The Dragon’s Children, we were curious about why she decided to write a fiction book in which Gross National Happiness plays such a key role. R. Vania’s reflections follow:

Reaching the “Unreached” 

By R. Vania

I’ve led a long and busy life. I had often asked myself those questions that I later discovered were the same questions used by the Gross National Happiness (GNH) system—questions about what made my life meaningful and what I could do to increase that factor in the lives of other sentient beings. But, in my “busyness,” my progress had limitations.

When I retired, I realized l had the opportunity of a lifetime to put my convictions to the test. I was left free to make a positive mark on the world; I had a responsibility to try to open hearts and minds to a broader consciousness.  A lofty and perhaps even pretentious goal, but what the heck. I could try. 

Especially in today’s political, social, economic, and environmental state, it was clearly more important than ever to expose others to a way to peace, kindness, and wisdom. However, I quickly found a major obstacle in fulfilling that aim. Those who could benefit the most from the message of GNH, didn’t seem interested in it.

I was concerned that unhappy, discontented people, from across diverse demographic groups, hadn’t heard what they could use to help them toward a happier life.  As far as I could tell, they didn’t read articles, essays and books in line with the GNH system either—perhaps they were simply too busy to search. In any case, I believed that, as an author or speaker, I would end up only “preaching to the choir.” I knew there had to be a way to reach the unreached. 

While reading one day, I stumbled onto what I somewhat reluctantly call “benevolent manipulation.” Or, in the less sinister-sounding words of Mary Poppins, “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” I realized I had to find a way to entertain adults, keep them engaged, while making the concepts (tolerance, respect, being open to new ideas, and the roots of happiness) available and palatable.

That’s when I decided to write novels. I aimed not for one but for a whole series.  (At this point in time, the fourth is taking shape.) I had written articles and essays before but never a book for adults. I had no idea what I was doing. So, I learned. I methodically plotted. I planned ahead, tying numerous novels together before so much as a single paragraph was written. Through a long and difficult labor, the Rising Tides and Undercurrents series was born.

The first book was intended to show characters that would bring more positive attitudes towards immigrants and other minority groups. In the process, the ecological and emotional disaster of an entire nation (Kiribati) sinking in the ocean due to climate change was also made clear.

The second novel, Greta’s Family, was intended to inform more, to open and broaden views more, to carry more important messages and metaphors. One character searched for meaning his life while Gross National Happiness and related endeavors were embodied in the Bhutanese character. 

It wasn’t until the third novel, The Dragon’s Children, that I dropped all subtleties and included full-blown descriptions of concepts behind Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness system, with a mention of a uniquely USA-focused organization, GNHUSA. A trip to Bhutan is where characters discover the specifics. (The now-forming fourth volume will, among other things, show how those concepts can function the American setting.)

I’m under no illusion that this one book, or the series, will become wildly popular and change everyone’s attitudes. However, it can tip the balance for those wondering about a better way to live and what they can do to improve the existence of all beings. And maybe, just maybe, open a few eyes and hearts of those that were previously unreached.

There’s a larger point to be made here too. If I, a 70-plus-year-old arthritic, can find a way to try to make a difference, find a way to bring the principles of GNH to another person, anyone can. Volunteer at a library. Choose stories to read to children with care and discuss them with the little listeners. Be involved with like-minded groups that do out-reach programs with local neighborhoods. Encourage others to join you.

If all else fails, remember, we teach most effectively by example. If you are living and breathing gently on this earth, others will notice.  In this time of violent demonstrations, unkind rhetoric, and seemingly very unhappy people, you will definitely be noticed. Some may even ask you for your “secret to happiness.” Go for it. Tell them about GNH. Our survival could depend on it.

by R. Vania

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