March 20 is observed as ‘International Day of Happiness’ globally. The day is adopted by the United Nations General Assembly based on the resolution passed on 28th June, 2012. Such historic milestone move to “catalyze mounting efforts to create a new economic paradigm grounded in sustainability and dedicated to human well-being, building on Bhutan’s innovative approach, which aims not for GDP growth, but for gains in gross national happiness (GNH)”.
As Bhutan was becoming popular worldwide with our GNH concept, our country conducted the first ever nationwide survey on GNH in 2010. I took part in the survey as an enumerator for the duration of four months. During the survey, I got an opportunity to travel to remote areas in Trashigang and Trashiyangtse, and in some parts of Paro and Thimphu. It gave me first hand experiences on knowing some basic fundamental concepts of GNH. To some extent, I got a naïve feeling of how much our Bhutanese are so much casually content with our lives and way things are around us at that time. But, however, the current scenario can be altogether a different one!
Since our country is so much in drastic transition and getting engrossed like any other developing nations around us, let’s take some time and think for ourselves. Personal, yes. Because everything starts with oneself and, in many cases, ends with oneself as well. And if we could think, maybe, as a nation, and to the larger context at the global level, too. Because each one of us is interconnected and interdependent as we share this one livable planet.
“Gross National Happiness (GNH) measures the quality of a country in more holistic way [than GNP] and believes that the beneficial development of human society takes place when material and spiritual development occurs side by side to complement and reinforce each other.”
The concept of GNH was introduced by Our King Jigme Singye Wangchuk in 1972 to “define the official paradigm development for Bhutan”. Since then Bhutan adopted GNH as a screening tool for the socio-economic development works.
The paramount importance of GNH is emphasized by being included in the Constitution of Bhutan (2008, Article 9) “to promote those conditions that will enable the pursuit of Gross National Happiness”. Our country goes as far as being mindful about happiness since our historic founding days at the time of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. The Legal code of 1629 states, “if the government cannot create happiness for its people, then there is no purpose for government to exist.”
GNH emphasizes the importance of inevitably including four pillars, i.e., (i) Sustainable and Equitable Socio- Economic Development, (ii) Conservation of the Environment, (iii) Preservation and Promotion of Culture, and (iv) Good Governance. The four pillars are further supplemented with nine domains which have 33 indicators in totality to make the GNH concept a practical reality.
The world is realizing the GDP oriented progress is not holistic and serving the intended purpose. Series of crises globally such as the Great Depression preceding World War II and the recent global financial crisis in 2008 show the grave limitations of GDP. The world is still recovering from the 2008 crisis. All these ascertain the current ways of handling and going forward with the socio- economic development based on GDP will be unsustainable in the future.
Throughout the world since the fall of communism and now the failing of current development approach, people from all walks of life have been looking for the alternative approach.
What’s an alternative solution to approach the burgeoning problem and provide the middle path in the socio-economic development in an individual, national and global sphere?
The concept of GNH and its practice begets hope and aspiration that it will bring about “holistic and sustainable approach to development which balances material and non-material values” to creating conducive conditions for happiness and wellbeing.
The responsibility of Bhutan as a nation and Bhutanese as an individual is quite overwhelming to live up to the expectation of GNH that would bring in the country and globally. The whole world is all ears and eyes and the whole world is increasingly taking notice. Yet skeptic of its result and longevity in the long run.
The journey has begun since more than four decades ago with the germination of the GNH concept. Now we have quite a tangible idea which we can at least quantify and practically use, for which we have to be grateful to the pioneering organization, our think tank in the country, the Centre for Bhutanese Studies and Research.
Now rests the implementation phase, and towards continuous improvements and relevance. The task before us is to change our attitude and accordingly orient our behaviors, habits and actions at an individual and a national level simultaneously supporting each other in tandem.
Replication of GNH at the individual, national and global level by holistic approach in its realization and practice will, or may, ensure wellbeing of the humanity and save the planet from the destruction.