Ancient Wisdom for a Modern Age in Bhutan
His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the Fourth King of Bhutan, gave the world something to think about in the 1970s. He said, “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product.”
This was the birth of GNH or Gross National Happiness as a philosophy for both living and governing. In Bhutan, GNH became an official development policy, taking priority over GNP.
The idea is that governments should take a holistic approach towards governing so that progress is not measured by economic progress alone. Instead, equal importance should be given to non-economic aspects of life – to happiness.
But how do you measure happiness? As Bhutan engaged more with the global community, Bhutanese officials made efforts to define, explain and even measure GNH by creating indices that would indicate levels of happiness. In addition, they made screening tools to ensure that government policies maintained a proper balance between happiness and profit.
If Bhutan made profit its prime concern, it could significantly increase its GDP. Instead of mandating that 60% of the country be covered by forests, they could log those forests for profit. They could ignore environmental concerns and create jobs that would repair environmental problems.
There are many more examples of how Bhutan could increase its GDP, but most of those would be at the expense of happiness for the people.
The current King, His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyei Wangchuck, describes GNH as ‘development with values.’ He commented, “GNH acts as our National Conscience guiding us towards making wise decisions for a better future.”
What if other countries developed a similar National Conscience? GNH could end up being a worldwide trend that could demonstrate that people might be better off with happy outcomes rather than profitable ones.