Gross National Happiness: Lessons from Bhutan

Something extraordinary is happening in Bhutan.  Instead of pursuing the inadequate economic indicator of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) that dominates the majority of the world, the government and people of Bhutan are pursuing Gross National Happiness (GHP).

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Gross National Happiness, coined by Bhutan’s fourth Dragon King in 1972, is an attempt to define ‘development’ in terms of quality of life and personal/social fulfillment, rather than purely in terms of economic growth.  Realizing that it is the pursuit of economic growth itself that often leads to the most unhappiness in societies, the people of Bhutan have decided to value and hold on to their cultural traditions and their natural environments rather than put them up for sale.  They’ve decided to keep what brings them happiness from being destroyed and exploited at the hands of global capitalist interests.

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According to Bhutanese law, at least 60% of the country must be covered by forest.  This policy ensures that their forest cover and natural ecosystems will remain intact.  Similar laws exist guaranteeing the upkeep and transmission of cultural traditions, art, and music to the following generations.  Their admirable story is highlighted in the 2011 documentary Happy (see http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1613092/).  Their assessment of what counts in life –of what every human life can and should be– is both inspirational and humbling.

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