What does Bhutan get right about happiness?

Truly Bhutan
4 min readFeb 23, 2022

Gross National Happiness is A Development Philosophy of Bhutan.

Economists argue that happiness can be obtained with material development. However, Bhutan argues the case differently trying to advocate by saying that material growth does not necessarily lead to happiness. In Bhutan, progress is not measured by Gross Domestic Product but by Gross National Happiness.

Agriculture farming brings happiness to Bhutan

The Late Druk Gyalpo Jigme Dorji Wangchuck expressed his view on the goal of development as making “the people prosperous and happy.” The importance of “prosperity and happiness” was highlighted in the King’s address on Bhutan’s admission to the United Nations in 1971. This vision was further elaborated by the Fourth Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuck who declared in the first years of his reign, “our country’s policy is to consolidate our sovereignty to achieve economic self-reliance, prosperity, and happiness for our country and people.”

While the emphasis is placed on both, prosperity and happiness, the latter is considered of more significance. The Fourth Druk Gyalpo emphasized that for Bhutan “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product” and this is now being fleshed out by a wide range of professionals, scholars, and agencies across the world.

Smily Face of School going boys in Bhutan

Concerned about the problems afflicting countries that focused only on economic growth, Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuck decided to make the nation’s priority not its G.D.P. but its G.N.H. (Gross National Happiness). He suggested that the progress of nations be measured by “Gross National Happiness” for the rich are not always happy while the happy generally consider them rich.

While conventional development models stress economic growth as the ultimate objective, the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH) claims to be based on the premise that true development of human society takes place when material and spiritual development occur side by side to complement and reinforce each other.

Gross National Happiness comprises of four pillars:

1. Equitable and equal socio-economic development,

2. Preservation and promotion of cultural and spiritual heritage,

3. Conservation of environment and

4. Good governance, which is interwoven, complementary, and consistent.

They embody national and local values, aesthetics, and spiritual traditions.

Today, the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH) has traveled across the world to define prosperity in better terms and to measure actual wellbeing rather than consumption. The conventional concept of Gross National Product measures only the sum total of material production and exchange in any country. Thus, three major factors seem to be responsible for the expanding credibility of Gross National Happiness (GNH). One, there is wider awareness that GNP is a one-dimensional and thus misleading measure. Two, a wide range of indices have been devised which offer a more realistic assessment of even material prosperity. Three, there is growing pressure for an infusion of moral and cultural values into the core of economic policy.

Trongsa Dzong in Central Bhutan

Gross National Happiness (GNH) has allowed Bhutan to both expand its network of roads and increase its forest cover. In most other developing countries, the arrival of roads is inevitably followed by deforestation. Bhutan’s move towards Gross National Happiness (GNH) has been indeed fruitful. For example, the high-value low volume tourism policy has facilitated high revenue generation as well as promotion and preservation of cultural and traditional values.

Laya village in Bhutan

Guided by Gross National Happiness Bhutan has tread the trail of economic development but not to the detriment of the Happiness of her people. This development philosophy has made the lives of the Bhutanese comfortable by embracing the Middle Path. Bhutan has savored an immense stride of economic progress that had complimented the preservation and promotion of the four pillars of Gross National Happiness.

Thus, Bhutan extols its forest cover and diversity of flora and fauna when elsewhere many species are disappearing and are on the verge of extinction. In an age of globalization, Bhutanese spiritual, cultural, and traditional values continue to influence the lives of the Bhutanese. The government strives to enhance self-reliance and reduce the gap between the rich and poor. Intensive efforts have been made to ensure good governance for it is the main source of progress and happiness.

Buddha Dordenma Statue at Kuenselphodrang, Thimphu

Following the international seminar on Operationalizing Gross National Happiness held in Bhutan in February 2004, the participants felt it useful to establish a Gross International Happiness Network, indicating the influence of Gross National Happiness beyond the Bhutanese Borders.

The Network attempts to find the best examples of sustainable development that incorporates values reflecting the general well-being of the people.

The GIH Network is a collaboration of the following institutions:

Center for Bhutan Studies, Bhutan

Spirit in Business, USA and the Netherlands

Social Venture Network Asia, Thailand

ICONS, Redefining Progress & Implementing New Indicators on Sustainable Development, Brazil

Inner Asia Center for Sustainable Development, the Netherlands

The New Economics Foundation, UK

Genuine Progress Indicators / GPI Atlantic, Canada

Corptools/Values Center, USA

International Society for Ecology and Culture, UK

Visit the Centre for Bhutan Studies for more details on Gross National Happiness.

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