Chapter 9 GROSS NATIONAL HAPPINESS “Gross National Happiness is far more important than Gross Domestic Product” — His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, The fourth Druk Gyalpo
Bhutan’s traditional values are based on compassion, tolerance and wisdom
Over the years, Bhutan has cultivated a unique approach to development with its national philosophy anchored on the principle of Gross National Happiness (GNH) which was promulgated as the country’s philosophy of economic and social development by the fourth Druk Gyalpo, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck in 1972. It refers to a set of social and economic interventions that evaluate societal change in terms of the collective happiness of people and that lead to the adoption of policies
aimed at that objective. Premised on the belief that all human beings aspire happiness in one way or another, the concept promotes collective happiness of the society as the ultimate goal of development. According to GNH, true development of human society takes place when material and spiritual advancement complements or reinforces each other. In other words, it states that the means must always be considered in terms of the end and, therefore, every step in material development and change must be measured and evaluated to ensure that it will lead to happiness, not just more development. The philosophy therefore, attempts to harmonize economic progress with the spiritual and emotional well-being of the people.
158 X FACTS ABOUT BHUTAN Bhutan believes that the holistic development of the individual and society can be achieved only through a sustainable balance between the economic, social, emotional, spiritual and cultural needs of the people. Development initiatives based on GNH values are therefore not restricted to the present population of any given society; it includes future generations and other societies, indeed all sentient beings. GNH emphasizes that the country’s current pursuit of development should not cause misery to future generations, other societies, or to other sentient beings, as understood in the Buddhist concept. GNH has been Bhutan’s overarching development philosophy that has guided the country’s development policies and programmes. Guided by this policy, the country has made rapid development in a short period of time. Achievements have come with very minimal impact on its culture and environment. The government of Bhutan implemented these policies through strict adherence to the four pillars of GNH which includes equitable and sustainable socio-economic development; preservation and promotion of its culture; conservation of environment and promotion of good governance. Operation of each of these pillars to Bhutan’s policy making is briefly stated below: Equitable and Sustainable SocioEconomic Development: GNH emphasizes the importance of sustainable and equitable development. Establishment and delivery of health, education, agriculture and other
economic services are guided by these two conditions of sustainability and equity. Hydroelectric power, a key source of investment and revenue for the government, has been identified as a target industry over extractive and environmentally damaging industries, such as mining or the utilization of forests. Equity has been at the core of the Bhutan’s development approach. Despite the country’s difficult terrain and the scattered nature of population distribution, the benefits of development, both quantitatively and qualitatively, have been distributed evenly across all sections of the society. Preservation and Promotion of Culture: GNH recognizes that the moral and ethical framework for one’s thoughts and actions are shaped by culture. This pillar aims at strengthening the institutions of family and community; the spirit of volunteerism, tolerance and cooperation; the virtues of compassion, altruism, honour and dignity, which seem to be a contributing factor to Bhutan’s low crime rate. Culture also provides a framework where an individual’s or society’s psychological and emotional needs are addressed. By preserving local, regional and national festivals, the government attends to these needs and provides a forum for maintaining social networks and promoting the conviviality of public culture. Bhutan treasures the extended family network as the most sustainable form of social safety net. To prevent possible family disintegration or nu-
GROSS NATIONAL HAPPINESS X
clearization, the government makes conscious efforts to revive and nourish the traditions and practices that bond families and keep communities resilient and thriving. Conservation of environment: The country’s environmental policy is predicated on the Buddhist perspective that human beings and nature not only live symbiotically but are inseparable from each other. According to this perspective, nature is a partner in existence; a provider of sustenance, comfort and beauty; and home to millions of life forms that possibly would have been one’s parents, friends, siblings in one’s timeless existence. Conservation of environment continues to be the Government’s priority. Currently 72.5 percent of the country’s are is under forest cover, 26 percent of the area is declared as protected areas and the state has decreed to maintain 60 percent of its area under forest cover for all times to come. Good Governance: In order for any state to materialize a public good such as collective happiness, it must attune its system of governance towards it. Intensive efforts have therefore been made to ensure good governance as it is the main source of progress and happiness. The country has therefore has pursued a number of initiatives to facilitate the people’s capacity to make choices through various decentralization programmes. In 1981, district administrations were made entirely responsible for implementation of most of the development programmes, in 1991 block development committees were created to
plan and oversee implementation of development programmes, in 1998 block level plans were formulated and His Majesty the fourth Druk Gyalpo issued a Royal Edict dissolving the long-existing Cabinet and directed the National Assembly to elect the Council of Ministers. Bhutan launched parliamentary democracy and adopted its first written Constitution in 2008. Thus, fostering people’s capacity to make choices through various decentralization programmes has been the continuous efforts made by the government towards promoting GNH. In order to translate the vision of GNH into concrete policy outcomes, the Government of Bhutan has initiated research on GNH indicators with the intent that they become the basis for planning, monitoring and evaluating government policies. It is believed that such indicators, as an aid to democratic institutions of governance, will establish reciprocal feedback and collaboration between the people’s aspirations for happiness and the state’s provision of conditions for its attainment. A set of nine indicators have been chosen which includes psychological wellbeing; health of the population; education; time use and balance; community vitality; cultural diversity and resilience; ecological diversity and resilience; living standard, and good governance. While the concept and implementation of GNH continue to evolve, concrete steps, such as the plans for a GNH Index, will continue to build potential and relevance of the concept to everyday socio-economic decision-making.