Gross National Happiness

I read an article in the National Geographic’s Traveler magazine about the Himalayan Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan and their perspective on their country’s success called “Happy Talk in Bhutan.” Here is a  quick summary of the interesting article…

bhutanIn the 1970’s, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck shocked the world by announcing that his country would abandon the materialistic measurement of gross national product (GNP) that most of the world uses to measure their developmental success. He replaced this standard with his own model – Gross National Happiness (GNH), which is still in place today. Bhutan has recently called upon the rest of the world to adapt their model, which the well-being and happiness of their citizens are counted when measuring a country’s progress.

I love what Bhutan’s prime minister, Jigmi Thinley, had to say about it: “The present GNP development model no longer makes economic sense because it compels boundless growth on a planet with limited resources.”  So very true – if only America could understand this simple equation. 

Gross National Happiness strikes a balance between the material, the emotional and the spiritual well-being of their people and is based on four guiding principles: equitable economic growth, preservation of cultural heritage, protecting the environment and good governance. There are 72 indicators that Bhutan uses to measure their GNH, from free healthcare access, to education for girls, to sustainable agriculture.

More than 50% of the whole country is protected national parks and reserves, home to some of the planet’s rarest and most endangered species. Almost 99% of the Bhutan’s children are enrolled in school and women are empowered both in business and communities. The country had been isolated from Western influence for years and years, as it had been closed to tourism until two decades ago, providing a foundation rich with cultural heritage within its citizens.

While America may rank #1 in GNP (or atleast near the top), I’d bet we would do very poorly against the 72 indicators of GNH. What the article didn’t include was some important statistics that I would love to compare to the growing epidemics in America of obesity, depression, teen suicide rates.  We often have everything backwards when we think of happiness and how we achieve what we consider a fleeting, passing mood – materialism, shopping, bigger houses, development, iPads, cable, big screen tv’s…basically stuff that doesn’t matter. Instead, we should focus on education, spirituality, sustainability and learning to live off the earth, emotional well-bring, healthy living, and of course, economic stability.

Gross National Happiness. Maybe they are on to something.



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