Gross National Happiness

GNH was the brainchild of His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuck who used Bhutan’s late modernisation as a position from which to learn from the mistakes of other countries. One of His conclusions from modern world history was that societies everywhere were losing touch with spirituality and tranquility.

In the early 80s, the King articulated the GNH concept to stress that economic success was necessary but it alone was did not promise that a society would be content. It was not a means by itself but a means to a greater end. The GNH concept recognises that the ultimate goal of development should be to create an environment where it is possible for people to realise happiness. This stands in contrast to the ideology of most governments and instutions as well as academia which remain indifferent to happiness, considering it a utopian issue.

GNH is Bhutan’s own unique model of sustainable development, a manifestion of Bhutan’s collective social and cultural consciousness. It therefore seeks economic development but not at the cost of corrupting administration, degrading one’s natural environment or diluting cultural values. Good governance, environmental preservation and promotion of cultural are thus the other three pillars of the GNH model.

Think of it this way. In, say, the United States, the sale of foodgrain and the sale of firearms are both considered good as they both contribute to the Gross Domestic Product. The Bhutanese will sell foodgrain as well but will not sell guns because a firearm carries too many associated costs that outweighs its material value. No surprise then that use of plastic bags and the sale of tobacco are prohibited in Bhutan.

The GNH ideology has generated a great deal of interest in some countries, one of which has drawn up a similar model that social scientists call “subjective well-being.”