In 2012, Bhutan introduced the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH) to the international community. Challenging the unconscious pursuit of economic growth, GNH is an alternative measure of success, a measure of progress beyond GDP. Before arriving in Bhutan, I was more than a little curious about how this small, landlocked Kingdom of only 800,000 people, could be leading the world in this important conversation.
It didn’t take me long to work it out: there is happiness in the air.
It’s impossible to enter the Kingdom of Bhutan without noticing that something is different. Relatively remote and untouched by the outside world, there is a remarkable openness, both in terms of the vast and mountainous landscape and the nature of the people. Yes, there is happiness in the air.
For over 30 years, the happiness and wellbeing of its people has been central to Bhutan’s development policies. In fact, all laws and regulations must be screened for GNH to ensure that they improve the happiness of the Bhutanese people. The GNH identifies nine domains, which contribute to overall life satisfaction–the ‘happiness score’ so to speak. These domains include social support, health, community vitality, arts, culture and environment.
Now, don’t get me wrong, Bhutan is not a perfect place. Like any other society, it has its challenges: approximately 20% of people live below the poverty line; there are general economic pressures; and whilst the ancient culture and traditions have been largely maintained, modernity (with all its complexities) is loudly knocking on its door. One only needs to go out at night in Thimpu to witness the growing number of youth dressed in fake leather jackets, obviously enticed by western music, technologies, ideas and fashion. For Bhutan, a major challenge is to balance the increasing influence of the outside world with the protection of its people, culture and environment. That said, although Bhutan doesn’t have a perfect GNH score, it consciously works to improve it (including a constant reduction in poverty).