Gross National Happiness


Imagine a world where the government really, truly looks out for everyone’s best interests.

Because Bhutan is high in the Himalayas, wedged between India and Tibetan China, it has never been colonized. They existed behind closed borders until the 1950’s. In the early 1970’s, as the twentieth century began to break into the country across the formerly insurmountable physical barriers, the king realized that they had a unique opportunity. Bhutan did not have to duplicate the mistakes other modern governments had made. They could embrace the brave new world on their own terms, taking in the best and leaving the rest.

Tachichoedzong, seat of government in Bhutan
photo by Attila Jandi

Viewed from the aerie throne in Bhutan, the western world’s infatuation with Gross Domestic Product was revealed to create significant problems. The advisors rushing across Bhutan’s newly opened borders encouraged the nation to increase their GDP, often without regard for the fragile web of life in the area. This model provided not mental or spiritual enrichment but impoverishment.

Rather than fall into the same traps which other countries had found so hard to avoid, Bhutan decided to seek “progress” working toward Gross National Happiness instead.  The speakers admitted that happiness is subjective and means different things to different people. But when people are asked “Would you rather be happy or sad?” everyone votes for happiness.

How do you strive toward happiness for all?

Taktshang Monastery, known as
the Tiger’s Nest
photo by M.Herman

The government attempts to strike a balance of material and emotional well-being for the people. The plumblines against which all government proposals are evaluated are –

  • sustainable economic growth,
  • preservation and promotion of culture (if you lose your culture you lose your identity),
  • preservation of environment, and
  • good governance.

So how do you measure happiness if it is elusive and variable? The government monitors such factors as the suicide rate, the crime rate, unemployment, access to free healthcare, and the amount of quality time spent with family and friends. They also evaluate the ecological integrity of the forest, community vitality, and transparency of government.

Bhutanese children with a kitten at a festival
photo by Wouter Tolenaars

Bhutan has realized that striving to increase GDP “compels boundless growth in a world of finite resources. This no longer makes sense.” They realize that their approach is not perfect but they are taking it very seriously.

Their growing tourism industry promotes Gross National Happiness by safeguarding environments and promoting their cultural heritage while improving the social and economic well-being of the citizens. Together the hosts and guest travelers can “share in the noble ends of reflecting on the meaning of life and our relationship to material wealth.”

Imagine our candidates offering these things.

Boundaries divide. Travel unites.

4 October 2012

About Travel Unites

A travel agent since 1994, I want people to get together for greater understanding across boundaries.
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