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Gross National Happiness


Gross National Happiness & Bhutan

Gross National Happiness (GNH) as the development ideology of the Country is a comprehensive concept to development emphasizing on spiritual desires as much as material accomplishments.

His Majesty the Third Druk Gyalpo Jigme Dorji Wangchuck expressed his view on the objectives of development as representing “the people prosperous.” With this strong view in mind, the emphasis of “prosperity and happiness” was highlighted in the King’s address on Bhutan’s accession to the United Nations in 1971.

While it highlighted both prosperity and happiness, they considered the latter more significant. The Fourth Druk Gyalpo, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck emphasized that for Bhutan “Gross National Happiness,” is more important than “Gross National Product.” Gradually, GNH gained its place in the national planning as erstwhile Planning Commission was renamed as GNH Commission in 2008.

Gross National Happiness has recently gained international recognition, and the UN has implemented a resolution “… recognizing that the gross domestic product does not adequately manifest the happiness and well-being of people,” and that “… the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal”. Towards this end, research is being carried on the subject.

It based the concept of Gross National Happiness on the premise that true development of human society takes place when material and spiritual development exist side by side to integrate and support each other. Its operationalization can be best understood with its four pillars.

The Four Pillars of Gross National Happiness:

1.Equitable and equal socio-economic development,

The emphasis of national policy on people centered development has seen the continual betterment of the social conditions of people through enhancing access to and the efficiency and quality of social services. It appropriately reflected this foremost priority in the significant scaling up of resources earmarked for the social sector in successive Five-Year Plans. The country has outstripped its commitment to the Global 20:20 Compact agreed on at the World Summit for Social Development in 1995. The compact required developing countries to devote twenty percent of their national budget for basic social programmed. Bhutan remains among the very few countries in the world to have done so. Because of these sustained social investments, Bhutan achieved significant progress in advancing general social conditions in the country, a development reflected in continued improvements in most of the social and human development indicators.

In Bhutan’s efforts towards the attainment of GNH, the country does not reject economic development. Rather, it is the balance between economic growth and spiritual traditions that is sought.

The national policy is that to foster and strengthen economic growth, it is necessary to primarily provide the capacity to commit in economic activities. This must be adhered to by determining those areas of the economy which can be developed and contribute to national economic wealth. Bhutan, as always, paid particular attention to the development of the country’s human resources. This is made clear in the successive national development plans whereby almost one-fourth of the Royal Government’s Plan budget has always been allocated to health and education sectors. By early 2000, this figure had reached almost one third. It has also made considerable efforts in training and developing the capacity of the country in the professional and specialized skills that are required for the development and management of economic activities.

The creation of physical infrastructure such as motorable roads, telecommunications, energy, air links, etc., is also essential to enhance the productive capacity and to avail of the economic opportunities in the country. Added to this is the need to identify and invest in growth sectors such as the energy sector, tourism, and utilization of mineral resources, enhancement of agricultural production and other service sectors that will contribute to economic wealth.

Prudential government rules and regulations, together with development of financial services are also necessary to create an enabling environment for the enhancement of economic growth. The development of private initiative and capacity is necessary, but the creation of economic opportunities must be fair to prevent wide disparities in income and opportunities.

2. Conservation of environment,

Sustainable development and environmental care are in the interest of every being. Strong ethics of conservation, underpinned by the traditional reverence for nature, have influenced the country’s environmental ethics and practice long before global concerns for environment were raised. The country’s first national park, Manas, was established as early as 1966. Today, over 26 percent of the country’s area is managed as protected areas to preserve the country’s rich biodiversity. 72 percent of the country is under forest cover, most of it in pristine condition. Although forest is one of the main natural resources of the country, one of the basic tenets of the country’s development philosophy is not to exploit it indiscriminately.

The natural environment has become an important economic asset to the country, particularly in energy and tourism. The ethics of conservation must now go beyond the natural environment to cover emerging new areas such as waste management, pollution, recycling, and related areas, which will increasingly affect the quality of life in the future.

3. Preservation and promotion of cultural and spiritual heritage

For a small country like Bhutan, preservation of its rich cultural heritage is critical to its very survival as a nation state. Besides safeguarding a sense of identity in a rapidly globalizing world, the living cultural heritage is a source of human values and beliefs that are of eternal relevance and critical for sustainable development. The traditional beliefs and customs underpinned by a strong reverence for all sentient beings and the environment promote tolerance, compassion, respect, and charity, which are fundamental values for harmonious co-existence between humankind and nature.

Besides providing a strong sense of identity and values to all Bhutanese, the preservation of the rich cultural heritage also provides a strong link and support between the individual and society at large, acting as an effective social security net. The pursuit of individual self-interests during modernization often threatens the rich bonding of individuals as members of extended families and communities. It is necessary to preserve social bonds in which everyone, whether children or elderly, are honored and respected. The breadth and quality of social relations also lie at the root of happiness throughout a person’s entire life cycle, from childhood to old age. Traditional social values and thoughts provide a benign and supportive role to social change and development.

4. Good governance

An individual’s quest for happiness, and inner and outer freedoms, is the most precious endeavor.

It follows then that society’s idea of governance and polity should promote this endeavor. We dedicate the country to establishing a system of governance that promotes the well-being and happiness of its citizens. His Majesty the King continues to guide the country towards fulfillmenting that vision in the evolution of its political and social structures, encompassing both the strengths of the country’s resilient and ancient society, and genuine virtues of democracy.

Even before modernization in 1961, the country comprised self-reliant and self-subsistent communities, possessing well-defined community-based rules and institutions to facilitate the use of common resources. In 1981, the fourth King started a vigorous program of administrative and political decentralization. The decentralization policy has enhanced the democratic powers, social responsibilities, transparent processes, and structures of villages and communities to decide at the grass-root levels. The Royal Government and its institutions continue trying to serve the people with integrity, accountability and transparency.

The greatest change in the devolution of power took place in June 1998 when His Majesty the 4th King voluntarily devolved full executive powers to a Council of Ministers elected by the National Assembly. On the 15th day of the 10th Bhutanese month, corresponding to November 30, 2001 the fourth King took another historic step. He commanded the drafting of the constitution of the country by the drafting committee of the constitution. The scope and the magnitude of the initiative were unprecedented. While addressing the committee members a day earlier, His Majesty stated: “It is my duty, as the King, to strengthen the nation so that the people can develop in security and peace, and the nation becomes more prosperous and secure than before.”

The year 2008 is momentous in all aspects in the history of Bhutan, and so in political developments and good governance. Institutional arrangements are in place to support the policy of good governance and recent developments over the year have demonstrated the effective and complete transition of the national polity to a democratic constitutional monarchy.

Gross National Happiness as a development paradigm has now made it possible for Bhutan to take its developmental policies into the remote corners of the kingdom and to meet the development needs of even its most isolated villagers, while still accentuating the need to protect and preserve our rich environment and forest cover. The policy of High Value & Low Volume, tourism has facilitated the promotion and preservation of our cultural values while transition to democracy and proliferations of institutions have helped in promoting good governance through constant check and balance, transparent and accountable government.