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Like Bhutan, Should We Be Measuring National Happiness Instead Of GDP?

Bhutan villager

Bhutan gives well-being a key role in national policy. In the tiny Kingdom, “happiness” rhetoric is the political norm. The idea of “Gross National Happiness” (GNH) is enshrined in official documents, and also used to justify Bhutan’s ambitious environmental policies, China Dialogue has reported.

During the 1980s, former King Jigme Singye Wangchuck decreed, via the Bhutanese Planning Commission, that government success must be evaluated by how happy the people become.

Gross National Happiness had then become a way of measuring human progress, instead of the internationally favored, and entirely more economics based Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The overarching idea is that a nation whose happiness is growing is making more progress than one that is just making money, but not becoming happier in the process. It has been well documented that happiness has not risen as wealth has increased in highly developed countries.

In Bhutan, promotion of sustainable development, environmental conservation, preservation and promotion of cultural values, and the establishment of good governance, are the four key pillars for Gross National Happiness.

A new Bhutan constitution came into being with the first elected democratic government in 2008. The now prime minister, Jigmi Y Thinley, is said to be a vocal proponent of Gross National Happiness and environmental protection.

In terms of environmental management, the constitution maintains that 60% of Bhutan’s total land shall be kept as forest cover “for all time”. The country has actually increased its forest cover from 45% during the 1960s to 72% today. Bhutan has also declared internationally, at the Copenhagen climate talks, that it would maintain permanent carbon neutrality.

Significantly, the Bhutanese prime minister has said,

“Climate change is the result of our way of life that is driven by insatiable human greed. Our GDP-based economic development models, founded on the notion of endless growth, have promoted consumerism and materialism with little consideration for cultural and ecological costs”

“Guided by our unique philosophy of Gross National Happiness, Bhutan has so far been free of the guilt of contributing to climate change and has in fact been more successful than most other countries in conserving our natural environment.”

Bhutan’s 10th Five-Year Plan, running from 2008 to 2013, gives top priority to the environment. The country has also been exploring the possibilities of organic farming and cultural tourism to boost the country’s economy without compromising the environment. It has also been exploring areas such as education, health, finance and banking, ICT, construction and consultancy, as well as hydropower.

What do you think of this push for valuing Gross National Happiness above Gross Domestic Product? It this a worthwhile pursuit, or are we better off staying as we are?

Perhaps the question that goes to the heart of the matter is: does more economic wealth really equal more happiness? Please feel free to leave a comment and let us know your opinion.

Image of Bhutanese villager CC licensed by RadioFreeBarton

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