Editor’s Note: this SISR edition features two articles written and edited by The Triple Helix chapter at the University of Cambridge. They are featured in this issue as a preview of an upcoming international collaboration between the University of Chicago, the University of Cambridge, and several other schools, to produce a portfolio of interdisciplinary articles pertaining to a single internationally relevant question. The portfolio will be published in the Fall 2016 edition of the Science In Society Review.
Mental Health and the “Happiest Place on Earth” Evan Eschliman (University of Chicago) Introduction to Bhutan Bhutan calls itself the “Happiest Place on Earth,” and some statistics suggest that it might indeed be close to claiming that top spot. The small Himalayan kingdom of around 750,000 was ranked as the eighth most subjectively happy country in the world in 2007 . Such a high rank is impressive for such a small nation; however, due to its longstanding prioritization of well-being, it is surprising that Bhutan is not ranked higher. Since 1792, the nation has held the belief that the sole purpose of government is to ensure citizens’ happiness . The “Last Shangri-La” had been largely isolated for many years due to its geographic location and its protectionist policy, but Bhutan ended its feudal society and formally opened itself to the Western world in 1953 . In 1972, facing rapid development and modernization, Bhutan’s Fourth Dragon King Jigme Singye Wangchuck famously held fast to his predecessors’ beliefs and proclaimed that popular measure of Gross Domestic Product would not guide his country’s future . Instead, he proposed and the nation’s novel guiding metric-- Gross National Happiness (GNH)-- putting an official policy behind traditional beliefs. Bhutan’s belief in the purpose of government has not changed since then, but much about the country has: television and Internet were introduced in 1999, © 2016, The Triple Helix, Inc. All rights reserved.
traditional dress-- once ubiquitous-- is becoming increasingly uncommon, and the capital of Thimphu now has one bar for every 250 inhabitants . But there is a looming problem that hangs among the nation’s traditional lanterns and temple rooftops. Paradoxically for a country as focused on happiness as Bhutan, there are severe challenges facing the kingdom’s mental health. GNH: Pros and Cons GNH has many potential advantages as a development principle. Unlike GDP, it puts citizens’ perceived well-being at the forefront of development. Moreover, it encourages participation in cultural traditions, involvement in the community, and even stewardship of the environment . Even though it was originally conceived as a means to align development and modernization with traditional Bhutanese and Buddhist values, the country believes measurement of happiness is of international importance. In 2011, the UN passed Bhutan-proposed measures suggesting that all countries begin to integrate happiness and satisfaction metrics in their national surveys . Although there is global agreement on the importance of monitoring happiness, there is international concern about the true happiness of the Bhutanese people. Using a standardized-- although admittedly Western-designed-- system, THE TRIPLE HELIX Spring 2016