The nation of Bhutan has developed an ideology that is being picked up by other countries: The use of government to make sure its citizens are happy. Whether they like it or not.
Some fidget, a few eyes wander here and there, but for a minute or two, hundreds of primary schoolchildren are quiet, learning to meditate together at morning assembly — palms upturned and thumbs together in the style of Buddha.
This is Gross National Happiness — or GNH — at work in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, a country determined to hold on to its ancient values even as it modernizes, to preserve its environment even as its economy grows and to prove to the world that there is more to life than money.
The term was coined by the fourth king of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, in 1972 in an apparently off-the-cuff remark to a journalist.
“I am not so much interested in gross national product,” he reportedly said. “I am more interested in gross national happiness.”
Those words grew into an ideology that has been examined and embraced by development economists and political leaders the world over.
Not since Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence of people’s inalienable right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” has the idea been so widely disseminated that a government should promote — or at least not obstruct — its citizens’ happiness. France and Britain are incorporating measures of happiness and well-being into their national accounts, and the U.N. General Assembly adopted happiness as an unofficial Millennium Development Goal in July.
The U.N. resolution was a victory for Bhutan as it looks to win global approval for its national philosophy, but the utopian-sounding idea has proved difficult to put into practice at home.
“The joy of GNH is that it offers Bhutan a distinct and alternative path to development,” said opposition leader Tshering Tobgay. “The pitfall of GNH is that we are more satisfied with talking about it, preaching about it, rather than sincerely implementing some of its important principles.”
The government has tried to factor happiness into policy in a systematic way, creating a Gross National Happiness Commission and conducting two comprehensive studies of the happiness of its citizens based on what it sees as the four pillars of happiness: sustainable development, good governance, preservation of the environment and promotion of traditional culture.
The article goes on to explain efforts to quantify an index of Gross National Happiness and how mandatory utopia laws are just not working as advertised. Still, that is not stopping the government of Bhutan.
Do you think this will catch on here? Isn’t that what both parties are implicitly trading on, what policies will make us the most happy?