Thursday, May 7, 2009

Bhutan - In Pursuit of Happiness

Bhutan is a country I have always wanted to visit. Somehow, it has been a dream, actually, more than a dream. I am not sure how to explain it. Every time I think of which country I would like to visit most, the answer has always been Bhutan. The first time I read about the King of Bhutan was when I was in school. It's been on my mind ever since. For me, it is the magical land. A country mostly unknown, but happy and content. That's the picture I've always had. What got me all the more interested about Bhutan was GNH. And how it was conceptualized by the king. How he interpreted life and happiness for his people and for himself.

Gross National Happiness, GNH, is a term expressed by the former King of Bhutan, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck in the 1970s to measure development of his country in terms of people's happiness. It is based on the Buddhist thought that the ultimate purpose of life is inner happiness.

In contrast to Gross National Product, GNP, the pursuit is not just for development but for development to achieve happiness. Evaluation is based not on economic benefits but on the happiness they produce for the people.

So, how do they measure happiness? The Bhutanese produced a model consisting of four pillars, nine domains and 72 indicators of happiness. The four pillars involve the economy, culture, environment and good governance. It breakes the pillars into nine domains: psychological well-being, health, education, culture, living standards, time use, community vitality and good governance. Each of the domains have weighted and unweighted GNH index.

Think about it. Development measured in terms of people's happiness. That is what a government should be doing. Looking at every decision taken in terms of whether it will bring more happiness to its people.

I think most of the world's problems will be solved if we follow the model. Unhappiness takes many forms. And the most cruel of them is poverty. An empty stomach drives man, basically an animal, to most forms of crime. Have you compared your state of mind when you've had a good meal and when you're starved ? I for one am impossible to approach when I am hungry. If we could provide the means for each human being to earn his meal for a day, and not worry about where the next day's would come from, most people would be content.

I admire the king. He was a very popular and much loved king, and is still uptodate, though not a king. He resigned and paved way for the country's first democratic election last year. A king stepping away from power - after Ashoka, he maybe the one. He changed the role of the monarchy as one having constitutional power not executive power. He gave the throne to his son. He lives as an example for his people. Respect and admire him for that. A true king. Who or which country wouldn't want to be ruled by such a king? Especially in the age of the politicians as we have today. Forget democracy and communism.

Today, when recession rules, Bhutan stands as a guiding light. It is for other countries to open their eyes and see that guiding light. To follow the path she has taken. Of course, they have not perfected it. But atleast, they are on the right track.


Leonardo said...

I like the idea. Only problem is to define happiness. Happiness for me can be completely different (sometimes incompatible) from happiness for you. Of course poverty is horrible. Of course we have to fight it. But that would satisfy only the very basic needs in Maslow's pyramid. Happiness is even harder to achieve than that. Being content is not being happy, I think.

Sapna said...

True. That is why they keep taking inputs from their people as to what they would like to add as factors that would make them happy. So, it is an ongoing process. It changes with time. So, if their food, clothing and shelter needs are satisfied, they then state, what is it that is missing in their life or would make them happy. So, it is continuing process.

Yes, there is the question of individual need. Remember, they are a democratic country and hence, a person can do whatever they aspire to do. What the govt is trying to do is probably ensure that their people are not unhappy for want of basic needs.

One example that I read. They found that tourist influx into their country is affecting their environment and their sacred lands. So, they have started restricting the number of tourists into the country. They have a system by which you pay $200 per day when you are visiting Bhutan. It includes all costs of boarding, travelling and lodging. A part of the sum is used towards building infrastructure and protection of the environment. So, they are doing something which suits their country's needs.