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Gross National Happiness Philosophy

Gross National Happiness, as a guiding philosophy of Bhutan’s development process, was pronounced by His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuk, soon after his enthronement in 1972. Over the decades, many conferences and discourses have led to increasing elaboration and development of this concept as well as its practice. Our king was clear that happiness is the ultimate end desired, but not necessarily pursued by every Bhutanese and indeed, every human being. All else for which we labor are but means to fulfilling this wish. Yet it is ironic that human society is pervasively susceptible to confusion between this simple end and the complexity of means. This explains why conventional development or economic growth paradigm is seriously flawed and delusional.

It is heartening to observe that toward the end of the last century and at the beginning of this millennium, the reflective and the analytical across all section of society are seeing the need to search for a clear purpose and a more rational approach to development. There is a growing level of dissatisfaction with the way in which human society is being propelled without a clear and meaningful direction by the force of its own actions. It is also noteworthy that, there is general consensus that conventional development process and contemporary way of life are not sustainable.

At this stage in Bhutan, the creation of an enabling environment for GNH is being undertaken through a set of four key strategies popularly known as the four pillars. These are:

  1. Sustainable and equitable socio-economic development
  2. Conservation of environment
  3. Preservation and promotion of culture
  4. Promotion of good governance

Our central development concept : Maximizing Gross National Happiness.

The guiding principles for the future development of our nation and for safeguarding our sovereignty and security as a nation-state must be complemented by a single unifying concept of development that enables us to indentify future directions that are preferred above all others. This unifying concept for the nation’s longer-term development is already in our possession. It is the distinctively Bhutanese concept of maximizing Gross National Happiness, propounded in the late 1980s by His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuk. Although His Majesty’s formulation made it possible for us to incorporate the concept as the foundation for the nation’s approach to development, some of the underlying principles have guided our nation’s development over a much longer period of time.

The concept of Gross National Happiness was articulated by His Majesty to indicate that development has many more dimensions than those associated with Gross Domestic Product, and that development should be understood as a process that seeks to maximize happiness rather than economic growth. The concept places the individual at the center of all development efforts and it recognizes that the individual has material, spiritual and emotional needs. It asserts that spiritual development cannot and should not be defined exclusively in material terms of the increased consumption of goods and services.

In our view, Gross Domestic Product is an inadequate indicator of development. Despite the importance accorded to it, it is nothing more than a measure of the money that changes hands. It is insensitive to, for example, social problems and natural resource depletion. With this measure of ‘development’ it is possible for a nation’s GDP to increase rapidly while its natural assets are rapidly exhausted, undermining sustainability and even the very survival of the nation. Similarly, a country can become ‘richer’ as a consequence of the money that has to be devoted to combatting crime, drug addition, marital breakdown and other social afflictions.

It is our belief that many conventional economic indicators of development have little intrinsic inters interest. Very few Bhutanese, and very few people in other countries, have a direct interest in the precise level of the nation’s GDP, it is money supply or the prevailing exchange rate. However, all have an interest in the welfare and well-being of themselves and of their loved ones. While economic performance impacts on welfare and well-being, its importance should be measured in terms of the extent to which it not as an end in itself but rather as a potentially powerful means for achieving other goals.

The key to the concept of Gross National Happiness cannot be found in the conventional theories of development economists and in the application of such measures as utility functions, consumption preferences and propensities, and desire fulfillment. It resides in the belief that the key to happiness is to be found, once basic material needs have been met, in the satisfaction of non-material needs and in the emotional and spiritual growth. The concept of Gross National Happiness accordingly rejects the notion that there is a direct and unambiguous relationship between wealth and happiness. If such a relationship existed, it would follow that those in richest countries should be the happiest in the world. We know that this is not the case. This marginal increase has also been accompanied by the growth of many social problems as well as such phenomena as stress-related diseases as well as suicides, surely the very antitheses of happiness.

We are also conscious of the growing disenchantment in other countries with conventional indicators of development. New indicators, such as the index of Sustainable Economic Welfare and the index of Genuine Progress have been developed to redress perceived flaws in the way in which development has traditionally been measured. The application of these indicators in industrially advanced countries shows that much of what in the past ahs been regarded as economic progress, as measured by nation’s GDP, can be attributed to the need to address past blunders and to arrest social decay. From the application of these indicators it is possible to conclude that much of what is often referred to as ‘growth’ can be shown to the uneconomic.

It should be stressed that the concept of Gross National Happiness does not reject economic growth as being unimportant. On the contrary, such growth is a precondition for enlarging our self-reliance, increasing the standard of living and enlarging the opportunities and choices of our people. The concept of Gross National Happiness stresses the important of continuing to seek a balance between material and non-material components of development.

The concept of Gross National Happiness is not a static one. We have not found it difficult to incorporate ideas and principles when they have enabled us to give still firmer substantive content to the concept. This has been especially so in the case of principles and targets relating to human development. International declarations relating, for example, to the rights of all to the education and health have been wholly consistent with our approach to development and we have incorporated these targets into our development planning.