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Being Real

by Mark Walhimer
Bangkok, Thailand

From Wikipedia:
“The concept of gross national happiness is an attempt to define quality of life in more holistic and psychological terms than gross national product.

The term was coined in 1972 by Bhutan’s former King Jigme Sigme Wangchuck, who has opened up Bhutan to the age of modernization, soon after the demise of his father, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk. It signaled his commitment to building an economy that would serve Bhutan’s unique culture based on Buddhist spiritual values. Like many moral goals, it is somewhat easier to state than to define. Nonetheless, it serves as a unifying vision for Bhutan’s five-year planning process and all the derived planning documents that guide the economic and development plans of the country.”

So what.

I get off the plane in Bangkok from Vietnam and I am immediately disappointed, Something is different, why aren’t people smiling? I spent last night and this morning thinking about it, then I rememberthe Happy Planet Index“. So low and behold, Vietnam is number #5 in the world ranking of happiness, while Thailand is #41 (USA is #141). There seems to be no Bangkok left in Bangkok, it is Starbucks and Thailand made plastic. I immediately miss Vietnam, how can this be? A country much wealthier and yet they are not nearly as happy (you can see it on their faces).

So what does this have to do with Museums?

I love the “Experience Economy” philosophy, but stepping off the plane I realize that the experience needs to genuine.  I can feel that this is not a genuine experience and it shows up in the Happy Planet Index and it shows up on the faces of the people.  Too often we try to manufacture an experience without the culture to support the experience and the feeling falls flat.  I know it is a stretch comparing a Museum to Bangkok, but then I consider the path that Bhutan and Costa Rica have taken, they both have made a decision to save their culture, because that is why people visit the country.  Without the culture there is nothing to experience.

About Mark Walhimer

Mark is Managing Partner of Museum Planning, LLC, a museum planning and exhibition project management firm of interactive educational environments for Science Centers, Children's Museums and Natural History Museums. You can reach Mark at mark@walhimer.com.

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