Gross National Happiness

As Bhutan was never conquered or colonized, the country developed a culture relatively free from outside influence, the institution of monarchy, and a deep sense of nationhood.

Mahayana Buddhism has given the country a view of the world on which our visionary kings led their policies of developing Bhutan’s potential in every field.

This continuing development of Bhutan has bee crystallized in a philosophy crafted by His Majesty the Fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, known as ” Gross National Happiness ” (GNH) in the late 1980s. The concept of GNH defines Bhutan’s developmental philosophy as a nation in persuit of happiness  to  the people more than the growth of Gross National Product (GNP). He said that the rich are not always happy while the happy generally considered themselves rich. GNH has been the overarching development philosophy of Bhutan as the concept has guided the country’s development policies and program. GNH suggests that happiness is the ultimate objective of development. Economists the world over has been arguing that the key to happiness is obtaining and enjoying material development. However, Bhutan tries to argue the case differently by advocating that amassing material growth does not necessarily lead to happiness. Defying this notion, Bhutan is now trying to measure progress is not by the popular idea of Gross Domestic Product but by through Gross National happiness.

The country believes that for a holistic development of the individual and society, it is essential that development achieve a sustainable balance between the economic, social, emotional, spiritual and cultural needs of the people. Having accepted that the maximization of Gross National Happiness (GHP) is a philosophy and objective of the country’s development, it was felt necessary to more clearly identify the main areas, and create the conditions to enable the people to attain greater happiness. Recognizing that a wide range of factors contribute to human well-being and happiness and that it may not be possible to exhaustively define or list everything for the purpose of it’s development planning. Bhutan has identified four major areas as the main pillars of Gross National Happiness. These are 1) economic growth and development, 2) preservation and promotion of cultural heritage, 3) preservation and sustainable use of the environment, and 4) good governance.

Guided by the ideas of Gross National Happiness (GNH), Bhutan has been making steady progress in every sector toward the goal of modernization. Hydroelectric power, economically the most significant sector for Bhutan’s goal of self-sustaining development, has grown impressively. The education, social services and health sectors have made great strides forward and continue to be the most important social components of the country’s development program. The government’s fiscal situation has been improving steadily. Progress has been made in the development of human resources and the  infrastructure developments.

The success of Gross National Happiness can be found in many areas besides developmental aspects. The policy of low volume but high value tourism has indeed assisted not only in the high revenue generation but in fact facilitated the promotion and preservation of our cultural values.

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 Bhutan’s Border.

The Network attempts to find best examples of sustainable development that incorporates values reflecting 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