“Draw the art you want to see, start the business you want to run, play the music you want to hear, write the books you want to read, build the products you want to use, do the work you want to see done.” Austin Kleon
Gross National Happiness over Gross Domestic Product
Gross National Happiness (GNH) is an attempt to define quality of life in more holistic and psychological terms than Gross National Product.
The term was coined by Bhutan’s King Jigme Singye Wangchuck in 1972. It signalled his commitment to building an economy that would serve Bhutan’s unique culture based on Buddhist spiritual values. Like many worthy moral goals it is somewhat easier to state than to achieve, nonetheless, it serves as a unifying vision for the Five Year planning process and all the derived planning documents that guide the economic and development plans to the country.
While conventional development models stress economic growth as the ultimate objective, the concept of GNH is based on the premise that true development of human society takes place when material and spiritual development occur side by side to complement and reinforce each other. The four pillars of GNH are the promotion of equitable and sustainable socio-economic development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and establishment of good governance.
Measuring our Progress
On the 16th of November Bhutan hold their annual forum on Gross National Happiness A country that has facinated many of us for decades since the King of Bhutan refocused the country’s vision to include and more importantly measure, the country’s happiness in an effort to start to manage that as effectively as it would traditionally seek to manage economic growth. Below is an article from The Australian suggesting that Bhutan’s goal of happiness could be a lesson for us all. I’ve also posted some additional research reports from the global wellbeing studies from the nef in the UK that you might also find interesting.
For those of you who don’t know the nef foundation, nef stands for (the new economics foundation) and is an independent UK think-and-do tank that inspires and demonstrates real economic well-being. For nearly a decade, the Centre for Well-being at nefin the UK has been calling for governments to measure people’s well-being and to recognise that the economy – and economic growth in particular – is only ever a means to an end. Now there is growing interest in measuring and using well-being for policy amongst governments and official bodies in the UK, France, the European Union, the United Nations and the OECD. This report presents nef‘s contribution to the current debate about how well-being can be measured and how the data can be used to bring about more effective policy-making.
The kingdom’s thoughtful attitude towards development should inspire the West, says Jeffrey D. Sachs.
I have just returned from Bhutan, the Himalayan kingdom of unmatched natural beauty, cultural richness, and inspiring self-reflection.
From the kingdom’s uniqueness now arises a set of economic and social questions that are of pressing interest for the entire world.
Bhutan’s rugged geography fostered the rise of a hardy population of farmers and herdsmen, and helped to foster a strong Buddhist culture, closely connected in history with Tibet. The population is sparse, roughly 700,000 people on a territory the size of The Netherlands, with agricultural communities nestled in deep valleys and a few herdsmen in the high mountains.
Each valley is guarded by a dzong (fortress), which includes monasteries and temples, all dating back centuries and exhibiting a masterful combination of sophisticated architecture and fine arts.
Bhutan’s economy of agriculture and monastic life remained self-sufficient, poor, and isolated until recent decades, when a series of remarkable monarchs began to guide the country towards technological modernisation (roads, power, modern healthcare and education), international trade (notably with neighbouring India) and political democracy.
What is incredible is the thoughtfulness with which Bhutan is approaching this process of change, and how Buddhist thinking guides that thoughtfulness. Bhutan is asking itself the question that everyone must ask: how can economic modernisation be combined with cultural robustness and social well-being?
In Bhutan, the economic challenge is not growth in gross national product, but in gross national happiness (GNH). I went to Bhutan to understand better how GNH is being applied. There is no formula, but, befitting the seriousness of the challenge and Bhutan’s deep tradition of Buddhist reflection, there is an active and important process of national deliberation. Therein lies the inspiration for all of us.
Part of Bhutan’s GNH revolves around meeting basic needs: improved healthcare, reduced maternal and child mortality, greater educational attainment and better infrastructure, especially electricity, water and sanitation.
This focus on material improvement aimed at meeting basic needs makes sense for a country at Bhutan’s relatively low income level.
Yet GNH goes well beyond broad-based, pro-poor growth. Bhutan is also asking how economic growth can be combined with environmental sustainability – a question that it has answered in part through a massive effort to protect the country’s vast forest cover and its unique biodiversity.
It is asking how it can preserve its equality and foster its unique cultural heritage. And it is asking how individuals can maintain their psychological stability in an era of rapid change, marked by urbanisation and an onslaught of global communication, in a society that had no televisions until a decade ago.
I came to Bhutan after hearing an inspiring speech by Prime Minister Jigme Thinley at this year’s Delhi Summit on Sustainable Development. Thinley had made two compelling points.
The first concerned the environmental devastation that he saw, including the retreat of glaciers and loss of land cover, as he flew from Bhutan to India.
The second was about the individual and the meaning of happiness. Thinley put it simply: We are finite and fragile physical beings. How much “stuff” – fast foods, TV commercials, large cars, new gadgets and fashions can we stuff into ourselves without deranging our own psychological well-being?
For the world’s poorest countries, such questions are not the most pressing. Their biggest and most compelling challenge is to meet citizens’ basic needs. But, for more and more countries, Thinley’s reflection on the ultimate sources of well-being is not only timely, but urgent.
Everybody knows how US-style hyper-consumerism can destabilise social relations and lead to aggressiveness, loneliness, greed and over-work to the point of exhaustion. What is perhaps less recognised is how those trends have accelerated in the US and the West in recent decades.
This may be the result of, among other things, the increasing and now relentless onslaught of advertising and public relations. The question of how to guide an economy to produce sustainable happiness combining material well-being with human health, environmental conservation and psychological and cultural resilience is one that needs addressing everywhere.
Bhutan has many things going its way. It will be able to increase exports of clean, run-of-the-river hydropower to India, thereby earning foreign exchange in a manner that is sustainable and that can fill government coffers to fund education, health care, and infrastructure.
The country is also intent on ensuring that the benefits of growth reach all, regardless of region or income.
There are serious risks. Climate change threatens Bhutan’s ecology and economy. Expensive advice from McKinsey and other private consulting firms could help turn Bhutan into a degraded tourist zone. One must hope the quest for GNH will help steer the country from such temptations.
The key for Bhutan is to regard GNH as an enduring quest, rather than as a simple checklist. Bhutan’s Buddhist tradition understands happiness not as attachment to goods and services, but as the result of the serious work of inner reflection and compassion towards others.
Bhutan has embarked on such a journey. The rest of the world should do the same.
Jeffrey D. Sachs is Professor of Economics and Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. He is also Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on the Millennium Development Goals.