What an interesting question! The good life as reflected in Bhutanese and American culture has been greatly influenced by changing political and socio-economic climates.
Happiness itself has had its own unique definitions throughout American history. After the two major world wars, for example, Baby Boomers led the way in contributing to an unprecedented rise in American marriage and birth rates. Those who had postponed marriage during the Great Depression and World War II were now eager to start new families. Rising investment in infrastructure aided the new paradigm; after the war, these new investments led to massive increases in employment opportunities in American cities. Soon, happiness and the good life came to be defined in terms of the white picket fence (a house), a good job, a wife, two kids, and perhaps, a family dog or two.
As time has progressed, the good life in America has been further redefined. Consumerism, supported by the rise in American industrial and technological achievement, soon became the new definition of success. However, as Americans eventually discovered, material success has very little to do with happiness and the good life.
With full knowledge of the need to redefine success and the good life, Jigmi Thinley (Bhutan's prime minister from 2008 to 2013), originated the Gross National Happiness (GNH) Index as a function of four pillars:
1) Sustainable and equitable socio-economic development.
2) Conservation of the environment.
3) Preservation and promotion of national culture.
4) Good governance.
Jigmi Thinley's premise for the Gross National Happiness Index is that the pursuit of happiness that promotes the greater good is the most sustainable form of good living. For more, please refer to Jigmi Thinley's report on the GNH index to the United Nations. From this stance, the role of the government is to promote the necessary economic and social conditions that will support this definition of the good life. The Bhutanese GNH Index has so captured the American imagination that it has fostered the emergence of the happiness movement in many states. Maryland and Vermont have both instituted the Genuine Progress Indicator as a way to measure happiness and contentment:
In the United States, the states of Maryland and Vermont are using the Genuine Progress Indicator to measure happiness. They are factoring in the benefits of volunteer time, housework, educational achievements, and functional highways and streets while subtracting things like crime and the depletion of nonrenewable energy sources. By measuring these and other factors, a more complete picture emerges of real well-being. (A Brief History of Happiness).
Presently, the good life in America has come to be defined in terms of financial well-being and health. The happiest states in America today also report the lowest rates of unemployment and the highest rates of physical well-being. Read about America's happiest and most miserable states.
In adapting to the needs of the modern age, Bhutan's newest prime minister, Tshering Tobgay, has further redefined the meaning of the good life. Interestingly, he has abandoned the Gross National Happiness measure for what he considers are more pragmatic indicators of success. His stance is to work to reduce the 'obstacles to happiness.' To that end, he is working to tackle Bhutan's high unemployment rates, soaring national debt, and political corruption. Read all about Prime Minister Tobgay's efforts in the New York Times article here.
So, the good life as reflected in Bhutanese and American culture can and does change with the evolving needs of each emerging era. However, the basic definition of the good life has remained consistent throughout time and across cultures: from continent to continent, human beings desire economic and political stability as well as peace on their shores.