Monday, April 18, 2011

Bhutan: Gross National Happiness

Public policy in Bhutan rejects 'materialistic' development paradigms in favour of a focus on spiritual wellbeing

Bhutan, a tiny nation in the Himalayas with a population of about 700,000 , is the only country that measures its progress by the level of happiness among its citizens. The term gross national happiness (GNH) was coined by Bhutan's King Jigme Singye Wangchuck in 1972. In 2008, Jigmi Y Thinley, the prime minister, launched a GNH index to guide public policy.

Seated on his office sofa in a knee-length robe, the national dress for Bhutanese men, Thinley told me that conventional development paradigms were "unsustainable, purely materialistic and very narrow". He explained:

"In the end, the development must be about furthering human civilisation … to increase and improve the level of human wellbeing and happiness. We are talking of happiness not of a sensory kind. The human being has material as well as emotional, psychological and spiritual needs."
According to the official website of GNH, GDP-based indicators promote rapid material progress at the expense of "environmental preservation, cultures, and community cohesion", the key objectives of GNH.

The website goes on to explain the GNH index with a splatter of religious terms throughout. Spiritual activities like meditation and prayers and "consideration of karmic effects" in one's life are among the indicators of happiness. It calls for training of mental faculties towards happiness. "From a contemplative perspective, extreme reliance on externally derived pleasure distracts the individual from inner sources of happiness, elevating the latter," the website quotes Dasho Karma Ura, the Bhutanese scholar who helped develop the index, as saying....

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