Intro to Gross National Happiness
Flip open today’s newspapers and you will be overwhelmed by bold headers of collapsing financial systems, income inequality, and global environmental destruction. Then travel along the pass between Paro Airport and Thimphu and you will be welcomed by a series of hand-painted signage punctuating the roads, all offering strings of life quotes: “Let nature be your guide” to one that stands on a chancy edge that says “Inconvenience regretted”. In a world spearheaded by material growth, Bhutan’s approach to measure progression is attracting huge interest.
The elusive Shangri-La, Bhutan, has gained a close mythical stature on the world stage for their pursuit of national happiness. In place of Gross National Product (GNP), it has advocated a new direction to development, the Gross National Happiness (GNH) and the spiritual, social and physical health of their citizens and environment. GNH is governed by four pillars, namely the promotion of sustainable development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and establishment of good governance. It may not pan out by scurrying recklessly into the gales of globalization, but rather, by methodical groundwork (33 indicators) and seeking progress in kalpas (a measure of millions of years in the Buddhist faith) instead of corporate KPIs. Personal wellbeing, living standards, ecological harmony, governance and time use are key factors in GNH.
Prioritizing environmental conservation and sustainability, Bhutan in recent years has doubled life expectancy, spruced up literacy rate and overhauled its infrastructure. You may ask how a nation could possibly have constant happy people, yet you could be missing the point. Bhutan believes GNH is an aspiration, a series of guiding principles to achieve a sustainable and equitable society. These Bhutanese are well aware of the future challenges as the nation dances daintily between cultural preservation and global realities. Many of them aim to be forest rangers and environmentalists, though they want too to listen to Korean pop music and watch Harry Potter, yet the bottom line is all of them are proud to be Bhutanese.
Many may view Bhutan as a nouvelle flora blooming in a world of impersonal cosmopolitans, where urbanites indulge in the mad race for material acquisition. As the last maven trending gingerly along the reaches of modernization, Bhutan believes that GNH is attainable, as affirmed by Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck, “But on the whole, I am happy when I can be myself. And as long as you are true to yourself, that’s not too hard to achieve.”