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Gross National Happiness

Gross National Happiness or GNH is the overarching development philosophy of Bhutan propounded by the fourth King of Bhutan, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, in the 1970s. His Majesty said that Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product. That profound statement since then became the basis for an increasing literature on happiness in Bhutan and elsewhere in the world.

The concept of GNH advocates that the ultimate aspiration of all human beings is happiness and that genuine happiness does not come from material well-being alone. On the contrary, genuine happiness comes when there is harmony between material prosperity, cultural and spiritual values, environmental consciousness, and good governance. These different dimensions of life are known as the four pillars of GNH.

The four pillars of GNH are:

1. Balanced and equitable socio-economic development,
2. Cultural and spiritual preservation,
3. Environmental conservation and
4. Good governance.

According to GNH philosophy, happiness cannot be achieved if these dimensions of life are not in harmony.

As is clear from the first pillar of GNH, GNH philosophy does not negate material prosperity as a means to happiness but it cautions that it is but a limited means to happiness. GNH scholars argue that if material prosperity was a good indicator of happiness, the people of the rich countries should be among the happiest in the world. But that is not necessarily the case. On the contrary, the people in the developed world are known to suffer from an increasing sense of dissatisfaction and depression.

The fifth King of Bhutan, His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, defined GNH as development with values. He means that the conventional measure of development is inherently flawed and does not include the inner fulfillment. It’s when development understood narrowly as material prosperity is devoid of cultural, spiritual, and environmental elements that the achievement of true happiness is incomplete.

Bhutan has long recognised that it is the responsibility of the state to create conditions for happiness. Towards this end, the state has put in place a number of policies to create social, environmental, cultural, and political conditions conducive to the achievement of happiness.

For example, Article 9 of Bhutan’s constitution says that “The State shall strive to promote those circumstances that will enable the successful pursuit of Gross National Happiness.” All state policies are obliged to be in consonance with the grand statement the constitution makes.

In fact, the Bhutanese state has always taken on the responsibility of happiness for the people. Bhutan’s 1729 legal code stated that “if the government cannot create happiness for its people, there is no purpose for the government to exist. It’s in line with GNH philosophy that the constitution of Bhutan declares 60 percent of total land area should remain forested for all time.

In recent times, Bhutan has made it mandatory for all public policies and laws to pass through a set of GNH screening tools. The policy screening tools examines whether a public policy will, for example, will, in any way, destroy the environment or add to the stress level of the people. If a policy is found to be potentially damaging to the environment, it fails the screening test.

Bhutan is in serious pursuit of GNH through wise public policies. They country believes that the pursuit of happiness will remain an on-going journey. As long as humans remain humans with all our inherent flaws and weaknesses, GNH will remains a guide, a point of reference, the North Star. But its pursuit will make all the difference. GNH, in this sense, is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

About Bhutan

1. Culture
2. Religion
3. Environment
4. Gross National Happiness
5. Political System
6. National Symbols

  • a. National Flag
  • b. National Emblem
  • c. National Anthem
  • d. National Bird
  • e. National Animal
  • f. National Flower
  • g. National Anthem
  • h. National Tree
  • i. National Sport
  • j. General Information