Happiness is not always easy to attain, especially as a collective population. In many countries, economic success tends to be favoured over the satisfaction of individual people, their families, and their communities. This being said, there are some places in the world where this isn’t the case. One of these places is beginning to receive worldwide attention for its method of dealing with the side-effects of an economically driven nation.
Bhutan is a small isolated country in the midst of the Himalayas, wedged between India and China. It prides itself in protecting its cultural traditions, which mostly revolve around Buddhist and Hindu practices. Since Buddhist lifestyle involves selflessness, as well as physical and mental well-being, Bhutan rejects the idea that development can only be measured from gross domestic product (GDP) – an objective measurement of the goods and services provided by a country. In the 1970s, the Bhutanese government created a new national measurement called the GNH: Gross National Happiness.
GNH is exactly what you think it would be, a subjective determination of how happy Bhutan’s citizens are. It is governed by four pillars:
1) Good Governance
2) Sustainable Socio-economic Development
3) Preservation and Promotion of Culture
4) Environmental Conservation
Measurements are made by conducting surveys in various communities about topics like health, living standards, psychological well-being, education, and environment. In total, the number of variables used to statistically evaluate the GNH is 151, which are all analyzed by the GNH Centre of Bhutan.
With this data, the government is able to direct the flow of money into sectors that help improve the strength of the four pillars and ideally make people happier as a result. For example, if surveys indicate that a certain sector of the industry is causing people higher levels of stress, the government may strive to improve work conditions or direct funding away from that sector if it is not an essential service to the people. Instead, they may push money towards other initiatives, like the construction of a temple that ultimately improve people’s mental well-being and strengthens their sense of culture.
Bhutan’s progression towards a modern government and economy has been slow-coming. Only eight years ago did it switch from a monarchy to a democracy, and today many people still live without electricity or accessible health care. Some economists are skeptical of the GNH and argue that Bhutan must fight poverty before it can make its citizens happy. Nevertheless, the government of Bhutan stresses that happiness is not a product to be bought or sold, and can be achieved by anyone despite their financial situation.
Research has shown that there may be some truth to this, suggesting that the happiness of rich and poor people may not be that different after all, given that they have the basic necessities for life like clean drinking water. This philosophy is particularly effective in Bhutan, where many Buddhist citizens are trying to achieve nirvana — a state of serene mindfulness — through meditation and selflessness, not money or power. Buddha himself achieved nirvana by rejecting his life of wealth for a far simpler one, and so many Buddhists are familiar with this distinction between affluence and happiness.
Even as one of the most underdeveloped nations in the world, Bhutan’s culture is unique and there is perhaps something every other country could learn from it. If the GNH turns out to be as promising as Bhutan suggests, perhaps we will one day be able to implement it into other world cultures.