Over Saturday afternoon coffee, my friend asks me, have I ever heard of a Buddhist economy?
A Buddhist economy, she tells me, is when a country’s happiness is measured not by its gross domestic product, but by its gross domestic happiness. This is a real thing. There are rubrics and questionnaires, asking you things like how much do you sleep, how satisfied are you with your life, do you find meaning in your work? There is a happiness census. There is a survey.
The Gross National Happiness survey wants to know, for example, if you have any serious conditions, impairments, or disabilities. You should circle any that apply, including vision or hearing problems, heart conditions, or the absence of a limb.
It wants to know if you have ever contemplated suicide and if so, it wants to know not just how many times you’ve contemplated it, but why. Naturally, it also wants to know if you actually tried. And if so, when.
How familiar are you, the questionnaire wants to know, with local legends, folklore, and traditional songs? Can you work with bamboo, leather, or paper to make goods? The survey asks for your mother tongue, and also how free you feel, on a scale of 1–10.
Do you trust your neighbors? Do you agree that nature is the domain of spirits and deities? Is the river nearest your home polluted? Do wild animals affect your life? How much do you pay for rice? Do you own a television? How often do you watch it?
The question demanding the most detailed response (her favorite, she tells me), asks you to review how you spent your time yesterday, from start to finish. There is a chart — three pages long — that begins and ends at 4 am.
Tell me, she says. Tell me what you did yesterday.
I was not awake at 4 am, I tell her. But I was awake at 5, watching the coffee drip into the pot and thinking, I should write, but not actually writing. This lasted for at least an hour. Maybe more.
There there was the drive to work. And then, of course, work itself. I pause here.
Go on, she says.
Well, my cubicle mate’s computer crashed. And I helped him fix it. And then he told me a joke that was not racist or sexist and we laughed. That was good.
Then I changed into my running clothes in the office bathroom, so that I could stop on the way home and go for a run. I ran six beautiful miles, and I inhaled the scent of pine needles and my mind went blank and I just became one with the trail. I felt strong and loose in my body.
No. But I really wanted to run. I hit traffic, though. I always hit traffic. And then when I got to the exit for the running trail, I was starving, so I took the next exit instead and I went through the McDonald’s drive through.
Then I went home and made my lunch for tomorrow. And I took a shower. I cried in the shower, but not necessarily in a sad way. Do you ever cry in the shower, but not necessarily in a sad way?
Yes, she says.
And then I had a glass of wine. It was buttery soft and tasted of prunes and cherries and earth. The wine made me fall asleep. I woke up on the couch at midnight and walked to my bed.
My friend smiled and reached over to put her hand on mine. Something felt beautiful and sad between us, though I’m not sure either of us knew exactly what. It may have been that neither of us knew how to work with leather or bamboo, or that nature as a place of deities was not something that had ever even occurred to us. Or it could have been the certain way the sun was hitting the patio and warming our shoulders, and how the sound of falling water made us feel like we could be somewhere far, far away.
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