Gross National Happiness

On Friday, I attended a talk by Bhutan’s prime minister, Lyonchen Jigmi Thinley at the Rubin Museum in Manhattan. The Rubin is in the midst of a fabulous Bhutan program – with exhibits, talks and performances until December. The Prime Minister wore the traditional Goh, a thick embroidered jacket, and spoke about Bhutan’s transition from monarchy to democracy. He also described the country’s policy of Gross National Happiness, which has been well covered in the West – though I hadn’t yet heard such a high-ranking Bhutanese explain it. It came about when the King acceded to the throne in 1972, while still in his teens.

He looked for social models around the world, but found none he liked. He believed that what people wanted more than anything was happiness – things like health, prosperity, education, were simply means to that. Economic development, he saw again and again, was pursued at the expense of the individual. So he made Bhutan’s national goal happiness. Plain and simple.

The four pillars of Gross National Happiness 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 happiness, of course, is a challenge. But the Bhutanese, with lots of help from curious well-wishers from abroad, try. Among their findings: rural people are slightly happier than urban people; cultural participation and identity is the strongest determinant of happiness among both groups; religious people tend to be happier.

You can read more about GNH here at the Center for Bhutan Studies site.

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