Happiness - Gross National Happiness
by Faraaz Tanveer
The term Gross National Happiness was first expressed by the King of Bhutan His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck. It is rooted in the Buddhist notion that the ultimate purpose of life is inner happiness. Bhutan being a Buddhist country, Bhutan’s King felt the responsibility to define development in terms of happiness of its people, rather than in terms of an abstract economic measurement such as GNP
Bhutan’s minister Dasho Meghraj Gurung put the Bhutanese philosophy succinctly: “The ideology of GNH connects Bhutan’s development goals with the pursuit of happiness. This means that the ideology reflects Bhutan’s vision on the purpose of human life, a vision that puts the individual’s self-cultivation at the center of the nation’s developmental goals, a primary priority for Bhutanese society as a whole as well as for the individual concerned.
Development based on non-material values
Motivated to preserve its pristine nature and unique culture, Bhutan has thus far succeeded in limiting exposure to global trade, foreign capital investment, modern mass media and tourism. Bhutan believes that its indigenous culture is generally self-sufficient and has little to gain from conventional western development. The country has for centuries followed a traditional model of development which is based on improving the quality of life, while respecting natural and cultural constraints, rather than the quantity of material production and consumption. As such it forms a reminder for conventional western development planners that development can also be based on non-material values, such as cultural, social and environmental values.
At the same time, it is becoming increasingly evident that Bhutan cannot ignore modern-day global economic realities, which increasingly have powerful cross-border and cross-cultural impact. The free exchange of information, driven by the world’s mass media and advanced communication technology, will continue to erode traditional borders. Thus, Bhutan has no choice but to take up the challenge of the global economy, and to help shaping and steering these economic realities into improvements in the quality of life, rather than merely in terms of quantity.
Not merely a slogan
The GNH Project believes that GNH should not remain merely a slogan, but that it should become a guiding force for day-to-day economic and political decision-making for Bhutan and other countries. For there are many societies on the edge of the global capitalist system who are similarly searching for appropriate yardsticks for sustainable development, trade and foreign investment while respecting cultural and ecological integrity.