In 1974, His Majesty the King Jigme Singye Wangchuck introduced a unique development philosophy called Gross National Happiness (GNH) in a small Himalayan Kingdom called Bhutan. GNH is a development approach that goes beyond GDP and seeks to achieve a harmonious balance between the material and non-material development (spiritual, emotional and cultural needs of society). This approach puts people at the center of the development philosophy and beliefs that the state’s primary objective is to ensure well-being and happiness of all its citizens.
Internationally, the effort to go beyond the GDP and make happiness and wellbeing as the key indicators of growth can be seen in some countries and international organizations such as, Happy Planet Index of New Economics Foundation first introduced the 2006, Thailand’s Green and Happiness Index released in 2007, Sarkozy-Stiglitz Commission commissioned in France in 2008, David Cameron’s happiness index of United Kingdom in 2010, Brazil’s embracement of GNH or “Felicidade Interna Bruta” to develop government policies, Canadian Index of Wellbeing released by Canada in 2011, and Happiness index launched by South Korea in 2012. Furthermore, in 2011, UN General Assembly adopted the agenda proposed by Bhutan to make happiness a “development indicator”
Today, Bhutan has over five decades of experience of adopting GNH as the economic development philosophy. Instead of measuring development on the basis of economic growth alone, GNH broadens the concept of development. GNH is mainstreamed in developing all five-year plans and national policies through four pillars, nine domains, GNH index, and GNH policy screening tools. The four pillars are: i) good governance; ii) sustainable socio-economic development; iii) preservation and promotion of culture; and iv) environment conservation. The Nine domains includes the conventional economic domains of measuring economic growth such as -living standards, education, health, and good governance- and also includes the non-conventional domains such as environment, community vitality, time-use, psycholigoical well-being, and cultural resilience. Bhutan undertakes a nation wide GNH survey, after every two years, to come up with GNH index to measure well being of the people and the insufficiencies among those not identified as happy. This survey uses nine domains, 72 indicators and 151 variables to measure happiness to come up with GNH index that provides indicators to government to help guide development, allocate resources, and design necessary policy interventions and action plans. Furthermore, Bhutan uses the GNH policy-screening tool (which is, within the scope of nine domains of GNH) to assess/review all national policies. This screening tool has rejected some national policies, because the proposed policies could not meet the minimum required threshold. In particular, the proposal for Bhutan accession to WTO and the draft mineral policy was rejected. It was viewed that these proposals will heighten inequality and corruption, deteriorate the environment, and decrease psychological wellbeing.
The current pattern of world’s consumption and production is unsustainable and is rapidly depleting our planet’s natural resources, and therefore many economists scramble to offer explanations and solutions. The conventional/mainstream economics has resulted in mad pursuit of economic growth without taking into account its natural and social costs has resulted into serious of conflicts such as ecological crisis (pollution of earth, air and water that threatens all our lives today), social conflicts, economic wars, above all crises of our ethics and values. These shortcomings provoke an impetus for the world to come up with an alternative/new way of economic thinking. Bhutan has responsibly accepted capitalism and adopted sustainable economic production through GNH development model. In the world’s quest to measure economic growth beyond GDP, GNH can serve as framework to embrace true development that is in harmony with the needs of people and rhythms of the natural world.