For the Bhutanese people, staying happy is a must. In fact, it is imposed by the constitution of Bhutan. Devised by the great Fourth King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, Gross National Happiness is a developmental philosophy, one which accounts for happiness prior to economic goals. It is a holistic approach to progress, one where material prosperity is considered secondary to the citizens' overall well-being, including their spiritual, cultural, emotional, and physical well-being. It oversees progress with an ethical and logical view such that there is no compromise or a huge trade-off between any two equally important necessities. Using happiness as an index of progress, GNH allows one to find developmental satisfaction beyond just material possession. It is seeing beyond and accounting for not just current needs, but also taking care of the future.
In the GNH philosophy, of course, finance and economy are given importance, for they indeed support the pursuit of happiness. But financial strive becomes secondary to the genuine well-being of the individuals. Understanding that material pursuit – although quite essential- should not come at all costs – ecology, and culture are given the same if not higher importance. As such, GDP becomes only one of its several indicators of happiness.
The philosophy of GNH branches into 4 dimensions, as a way of making it realistic and achievable. The four dimensions also called the four pillars that support GNH, are the pursuit of sustainable socio-economic development, preservation and promotion of culture, conservation of the natural environment and ecology, and good governance.
The four pillars of GNH
The four pillars of GNH are briefly elaborated below.
1. Fair and Sustainable Socio-Economic Development:
Bhutan has not compromised any of its ecological boundaries in pursuit of development. Nature reserves and wildlife sanctuaries have been established and left untouched in Bhutan’s development plans. Further, Bhutan has opted to become an all-clean and all-organic source of production. Proper agricultural planning and mass hydropower projects ensure all exports of its agricultural products are organic, and all exports of electrical energy are clean.
Hydropower plants in Bhutan
2. Conservation and Promotion of a Vibrant Culture:
The identity of the people, and age-old values still enable us to come together as one. It thrives in our dress, in our religion, in our architecture, in our language and so in our hearts.
3. Environmental Protection:
Bhutan is a biodiversity hotspot, a safe haven for thousands of exotic species some of which are endangered but all of which are protected. A carbon-negative region that pledges to remain so in account of its promise to keep a minimum of 60 percent forest coverage for all times.
4. Good Governance:
Maintaining transparency in operation, exercising democracy of people, and a zero tolerance towards corruption.
GNH, it sounds like a dreamy idea, but how practical is it really? Especially when you are limited by a small economy. Ensuring that people are treated right, that leaders function as per code, and keeping a sustained trust and relation between the people and its executives, is a taxing process, one which demands full commitment, “extra” effort, and “extra” input. However, the benefits are multi-folds of the input. For instance, as a by-product of Gross National Happiness, all citizens are availed of free healthcare services, free education, and several other welfare. The government tends to the physical and intellectual well fare of its people, spending millions on the funding of these services and for their continued growth. Although it appears to be a trade-off for economic prosperity, it accounts for the happiness of the people on a much major scale. Sure, it offsets the country’s financial advancements/progress late by a few more years, but in any other view, it appears the more sensible moral decision to make. Ensuring that everyone’s situation and issues are addressed, regardless of financial and political conditions. In this context, the 5th king of Bhutan addresses GNH as ‘simply development with values.'
Well, I am not saying Bhutan has the best functioning government in the world, but free education, healthcare, and environmental care? That is definitely one act of the very best, and something to take inspiration from.