Bhutan, a small country in Asia, made quite a big impact in the world a few years ago. In 1972, when King Jigme Singye Wangchuck opened the country up to modernization, he thought ‘Happiness’ would be a good measure of his country’s prosperity. He wanted to build an economy that would preserve Bhutan’s unique culture and Buddhist beliefs.
Further research by the Centre for Bhutan Studies led the government to officially recognize and use ‘Gross National Happiness’, as opposed to the Gross Domestic Product used by the rest of the world, as a measure that influences economic decisions.
The Gross National Happiness mainly tries to place the wellbeing of a country’s citizens over its materialistic growth. The nine domains that make up the Gross National Happiness are: Psychological well-being, standard of living, good governance, health, education, community vitality, culture, time use, and ecological diversity and resilience.
It was only in 1962 that Bhutan built its first road, and since then Bhutan has made bounds in its attempt to keep up with its local and global challenges. Bhutan is one of the few developing countries that include protecting the environment at the heart of its public policies. All educational facilities were changed to ‘green schools’, meaning students are taught basic agricultural methods and environmental protection in addition to their regular curriculum. All waste materials in the schools also had to be recycled under the new national waste management program. Bhutanese teachers claim that these changes are more than just a mechanism to go green-it has become a philosophy of life.
In 2011, the UN and 68 other countries agreed upon Bhutan’s idea of a more holistic approach to development. Bhutan remains to be a change-agent that leads the world to look beyond materialistic measures of prosperity and growth, begging us to ask questions such as: does economic welfare mean those who are employed are happy with their lives? Is an increase in imports and tourism worth the loss of one’s culture?
The GNH does not answer all these questions, nor is it a flawless indicator, but it has definitely made many reflect on the possibilities never looked upon before.
By: Suaida Firoze
Photo Credit: Claire O’Neill