Gross National Happiness

Gross National Happiness (Bhutan’s guiding philosophy)

Bhutan has always valued the happiness and prosperity of its people since time immemorial. However, the concept of Gross National Happiness materialized only in the mid 1980’s. It was His Majesty the Fourth King who declared the importance of economic self-reliance and happiness and prosperity of the people. His subsequent pronouncement of GNH being more important than GNP in 1986 has captured the imagination of scholars and policy makers across the globe.

In this age of globalization, Bhutan’s spiritual, cultural and traditional values continue to influence the lives of its people. Thus it was rightly said that Bhutan has one foot in the past and one in the future.

GNH concept, however, does not reject economic growth as being unimportant. However, it stresses the importance of continuing to seek a balance between the tangible and intangible components of development. Thus, true development of human society takes place only when material and spiritual development occur side by side to complement and reinforce each other.

The concept also places the individual at the centre of all development efforts and it recognizes that the individual has material, spiritual and emotional needs. It asserts that spiritual development cannot and should not be defined exclusively in material terms of the increased consumption of goods and services.

The key to the concept of GNH cannot be found in the conventional theories of development economists and in the application of such measures as utility functions, consumption preferences and propensities, and desire fulfillment. It resides in the belief that the key to happiness is to be found, once basic material needs have been met, in the satisfaction of non-material needs and in emotional and spiritual growth. The concept thus rejects the notion that there is a direct and unambiguous relationship between wealth and happiness. If such a correlation existed then those in the richest countries should be the happiest in the world.

Having accepted that the maximization of GNH is a philosophy and objective of the country’s development, it was felt necessary to more clearly identify the main areas, and create the condition to enable the people to attain greater happiness. Recognizing that the large range of factors contributes to human well-being and happiness and that it may not be possible to exhaustively define or list everything for the purpose of its development planning, four major areas are identified as the main pillars of GNH:

Economic growth and development
Preservation & promotion of cultural heritage
Preservation & sustainable use of the environment
Good governance
“Happiness should be of interest to any nations of the world regardless of religious creed or political ideologies”