Happiness-Spirituality as The Fourth Bottom Line


‘Serving society’ seems to be one of the newfound mantras of the corporate sector. Being a part of people at the grassroots levels, uplifting the destitute, shouldering the elderly, educating the illiterate or improving conditions in the rural areas; these form a slew of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) ventures and are becoming a necessary part of the branding exercise. The focus here is not restricted to people alone; it extends to creating awareness about the growing environmental hazards, or even protecting wildlife.

CSR makes sound business sense. IBM, for instance, believes that there is a bigger reason organizations invest in CSR: the reality that businesses cannot succeed in a society which fails. It is, therefore, imperative for organizations to understand the social milieu in which they function.

In an age of rising recognition and the imperative need to increase employee engagement, CSR initiatives follow suit. A company may chart out a policy, draw up a plan, and invest funds, but it needs complete endorsement and active participation by its employees to carry the policies forward and implement them.

In companies like Cisco, employees also work on several technologies that help humanity at large such as power management, reduced power usage, productivity-enhancing applications and so on. Senior employees there also have the option of working with NGOs to improve the NGO’s strategy, finances, business, or execution.

TBL Movement Drivers

The triple bottom-line movement has taken off. Indeed, 45 percent of the world’s top companies publish sustainability reports, according to the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, Australia. This change has not come about because of the graciousness of organizations.

Changing values among stakeholders (and, indeed, the notion that multiple stakeholders define the organization, not just stockholders, but employees, managers, the community at large, and the environment itself!) is a key driver of this movement. Employees desire an organization that they can be proud of. Along with profit, organizations are expected to consider human rights, evaluate their impact on the environment, and on future generations.

“Work is such a large part of life that employees increasingly want to work for organizations which reflect their values, and for us, it’s also an issue of attracting and retaining talent,” says Jennifer Johnston of Bristol-Myers Squibb.

Gross Happiness Index: Alternative to GDP

National-level initiatives are following suite. Bhutan has developed a gross happiness index. While all OECD nations have not gone this far, the UK is taking happiness seriously. In the UK, the Cabinet Office has held a string of seminars on life satisfaction and published a paper last year recommending policies that will lead to an increase in the nation’s happiness. The policies include quality of life indicators when making decisions about health and education, and finding an alternative to gross domestic product (GDP) as a measure of how well the country is doing – one that reflects happiness as well as welfare, education and human rights. There are even journals and professors specializing in happiness.

Happiness is increasingly equated with quality of life, and not the quantity of material possessions. As nations move to postmodern economies, other issues are gaining more importance, such as spirituality; the meaning of life and the ultimate nature and purpose of humankind.

Spirituality: The Fourth Bottom-Line?

But where there may be a subtle shift toward the spiritual, can it become the fourth bottom-line? We certainly don’t see stakeholders holding long meditation sessions outside of corporate offices and government buildings.

Corporations already face the challenge of incorporating social indicators. Certainly, the purpose of a fourth bottom-line is not to be an additional burden for organizations. Spirituality includes four interrelated factors: nurturing a relationship with the transcen-dent; regular practice of meditation or prayer; physical practices to harmonize or transform the body; and fostering social relationships.

There are two external factors – the transcendental and the social (although of course, the transcend-ent and social are both within) and two internal factors – mind and body (of course, external as well and interdependent).

Indicators of Spirituality as The Fourth Bottom-Line

Are there any indicators that spirituality can become a bottom-line? Can the historically immeasurable be measured?
There are clear risks. Along with the potential perception of patriarchy, come the problems of caste/class: with elite groups claiming they can best interpret the spiritual. The transcendent becomes a weapon: linguistic, political, and economic.

Yet, this is the nature of our world. Taking a layered approach may be an appropriate way to consider. Using the metaphor of the ‘iceberg of spirituality’, the tip of the iceberg can be measured, as that is the often visible. Beyond that exist the social dimensions of spirituality – manifested in such acts as community care, group medita-tions, shared experiences and so on; thus bolstering a ‘system of spirituality’. This system too can be evidenced. If we delve deeper, we see the worldview of spirituality – ethics, ecology, devotion, multiple paths, and transcendence. As we move to deeper levels of spirituality, measurement becomes more difficult.

Is there any evidence that spirituality as an issue is gaining interest? With workshops happening in Croatia, Pakistan, Malaysia, Australia, Thailand, Germany, Taiwan, New Zealand, USA, among many other countries, we see increasing awareness about and interest in spiritual issues worldwide.


Data confirms that materialism does not lead to happiness. A study by Tim Kasser of Knox College, Illinois, found that young adults who focus on money, image and fame tend to be more depressed, have less enthusiasm for life and suffer more physical symptoms such as headaches and sore throats than others (The High Price of Materialism, MIT Press, 2002).
Indeed, Kasser believes that advertising, which is central to the desire machine, should be considered a form of pollution, and be taxed or advertisers should be forced to include warning messages that materialism can damage one’s health.

Spirituality, while it does enhance economic productivity, social connectivity, inner and outer health, should not be confused with economic materialism or indeed any type of materialism (even the spiritual variety, that is, collecting gurus, mantras, or using the spiritual to accumulate ego).

The Spiritual Template of Our Life

Part of the challenge we face is to transform our template of life itself. Currently it is: birth, student, work, retirement and death. In a spiritual model, spirituality would travel through all these stages. Also, ‘student-hood’ would never terminate but rather continue throughout one’s life. In addition, the worker phase would exist throughout our lives, transformed to mission – doing what is most important – and that is translated into life-long earning and meaningful rewards. Service to society would be a part of our daily lives – finding some way, every day, to contribute to the community. Thus, seeing spirituality as the fourth bottom-line means transforming the foundational template of our lifecycle. This is especially crucial as the global ageing of society changes our historically stable age pyramid.

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Asim Malik works in the microfinance industry and has also been involved in providing consultation and bringing innovations in the field of retail distribution for the FMCG sector.

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