Largely shaped by the Buddhism, the term was coined by the Fourth King of Bhutan during his initial rule wherein he propounded that “Gross National Happiness is more important and Gross Domestic Product. Today Bhutan has adopted Gross National Happiness (GNH) as a vision of the state’s mandate. GNH emphasizes the pursuit and achievement of happiness, a fundamental human desire, as the end of socio-economic development. In other words, GNH places happiness as the primary goal of development.
Understanding the fact that material growth necessarily does not translate into happiness, the GNH approach to development aspires to balance the spiritual and emotional wellbeing with material needs of individuals and the society at large. GNH recognizes the importance of economic growth as essential, but not an end in itself, to support and nurture the spiritual and social needs of the people. Today GNH is an overarching philosophy that guides Bhutan’s state policies and development activities based on the following four pillars:
§ Sustainable and Equitable Socio-Economic Development,
§ Preservation and Promotion of Culture,
§ Conservation of Environment, and
§ Good Governance.
GNH lays utmost emphasis on sustainable and equitable socio-economic development by prioritizing social development as much as economic growth. Sustainable development is the core principle of any development activity as it ensures long-term benefits, for the current and future generations. The Royal Government also commits highest per cent of the five-year plan budget for the social sectors like health and education.
Environmental conservation is valued widely throughout Bhutanese society as it is a source of livelihood as the majority depend on natural environment. Our approach to nature has been traditionally anchored in Buddhist beliefs and values. Buddhist respect for all living things has led to development and adoption of ecologically friendly strategies. Today about 72% of the country is still covered with forest and Bhutan has been identified as one of the ten global hotspots for environmental conservation. Our constitution also mandates that “a minimum of 60% of the country’s total land shall be maintained under forest cover for all time”. In this regard, Bhutanese accept the fact that the environment should be preserved for the future generation, limiting severe degradation over the years.
The preservation and promotion of unique Bhutanese culture is essential to very survival as a nation state with a strong unique identity. Strong community feeling, family bonding and social harmony, Buddhist values of kindness and compassion, among others are fundamental characteristics of Bhutanese social fabric. It is widely believed that a decline in traditional cultural heritage will lead to a general discontent of society and has therefore preservation and promotion of rich cultural heritage is a high government priority.
The most important element of attaining the happiness is the system of good governance without which the other three pillars may not be achievable. The Royal Government is dedicated to establishing a system of governance that promotes wellbeing and happiness of its citizens. Access to public services has been made easier through the use of IT and lot of emphasis has also been laid in creating a corruption free governance system by successive governments over the years.
Some argued that GNH would be achieved in the state “where everyone cares enough and everyone shares enough so that everyone has enough” otherwise it is merely a utopian concept best suited for intellectual brainstorming. Our journey began more than four decades ago but the initiative to develop more elaborate and precise metrics to measure GNH has been underway only since 2008. Today the Royal Government has identified nine domains and 33 indicators, which support the four pillars of GNH. The nine domains are standard of living, health, education, cultural diversity and resilience, time use, community vitality, psychological wellbeing, ecological diversity and resilience, and good governance. Each domain has 2-4 indicators under them totalling up to 33 and further these indicators have sub-indicators. The domains pertain to Bhutanese context and likewise other countries could identify their own domains and develop indicators based on their cultural context and social fabric to measure whether the GNH framework is applicable in their countries.
The former President Nicolas Sarkozy of France was one of the pioneer world leaders to advocate GNH philosophy. Bhutan is continually striving to bring wholesome global peace and harmony through GNH so that the concept becomes a dynamic force in shaping a brighter collective future for the better world. In 2011, the UN has adopted Bhutan’s proposal to include happiness as the ninth Millennium Development Goal and has declared March 20 every year as the World Happiness Day thereby gaining lots of attention globally. The main agencies of the Royal Government actively involved in the research, development and implementation of GNH policies:
§ Gross National Happiness Commission,
§ Centre for Bhutan Studies and GNH Research,
§ GNH Centre Bhutan, and
§ The New Development Paradigm - A Royal Government of Bhutan Initiative.