Bhutan is a small and mostly Buddhist nation tucked between China and India with a population of about 800,000. It spreads across the Himalayas with 70 percent of its land coated in forests. To deter low cost tourism, Bhutan requires visitors to spend upwards of $250 USD per day per person making it a highly regarded destination among discerning travelers. A huge attraction of Bhutan is its perceived focus on peacefulness which is reflected in its laws.
In 1972 the king of Bhutan introduced the concept of “gross national happiness” (GNH) as an attempt to live in a way that’s holistic and create a paradigm for alternative development. While most nations use the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a yardstick to measure economic progress its effectiveness has been challenged in favor of other concepts. GNH is calculated by an index that measures the collective happiness and well-being of a population through four pillars:
Sustainable and equitable socio-economic development
Preservation and promotion of culture
This new approach to development accounts for prosperity through these formal principles and the spiritual, physical, social and environmental health of both its citizens and natural environment. It takes into account psychological well-being, health, time use, education, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and living standards. In a nut shell, this revolutionary innovation values happiness over money.
Bhutan is taking steps to increase its GNH through these four pillars and in 2001 the same king who created the concept of GNH initiated the process of voluntarily handing over his power to the people by creating a parliamentary democracy. Bhutan’s constitution also includes unprecedented environmental measures such as requiring 62 percent of the country to be preserved under forest cover at all times though it usually maintains a rate of 72 percent. This is one initiative which strives to fulfill the country’s ambitions to be not just carbon-neutral but carbon-negative.
Gross National Happiness in Bhutan is also being supported by the preservation and promotion of its culture. Due to its mountainous geography, isolated communities have evolved their own culture, identity and languages. Bhutan celebrates this diversity with regional festivals and an emphasis on tradition and celebration of culture in daily life. Furthermore, there is a “Gross National Happiness Commission” which ensures that all policies pass a GNH stress test to create a balanced approach to economic development.
Scientific evidence highlights the effectiveness to this approach. From 2010 to 2015, studies from Bhutan’s GNH Centre showed that subjective happiness across the population increased, unemployment is low and income per capita has been consistently growing. It is in fact one of the few carbon negative countries in the world and one of the few countries in Asia with universal clean drinking water.
The concept of GNH is spreading outside Bhutan; in 2011 the United Nations adopted Bhutan’s call for a holistic approach to development. With the support of 68 member countries, the UN created a General Assembly resolution aimed at promoting sustainable happiness and March 20th was declared to be the International Day of Happiness by the UN in 2012.
So how can you implement this creative approach to observing your own progress and celebrating your own success? Money may not buy happiness, but we can create it with our own free will.