Diamond Light
Newsletter of the Aquarian Age Community
2011 No. 2
Index | Back Issues
Gross National Happiness
An Alternative Paradigm to Sustainable
Socio-economic Development

Dr. Saamdu Chetri 1

We have often challenged the term happiness because of the narrow meaning we assign to it as containment, flitting joy, satisfaction, or momentary pleasure – it is much deeper than we think. Happiness is a balance between food for the body and the mind—a balance between spirituality and materialism, based on the belief that man is bound by nature. Realising that the ultimate goal of any human being is happiness, in the early 1970s, the fourth King of Bhutan, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, profoundly advocated, “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product.” Since then, the people of Bhutan have mindfully walked this path, as envisioned by our King.

From the time of its inception, the Gross National Happiness (GNH) concept has been applied in five-year development plans—always within the context of the four pillars of GNH: equitable socio-economic development, cultural preservation and promotion, environmental conservation and good governance. Currently, in its second developmental phase, two statistical surveys—the most recent in 2010, have tested nine domains with 72 indicators, 38 indices and 151 variables. The results indicate that this new paradigm proves to be stronger than GDP and confirms our conviction that GNH is a more viable paradigm.

As a result of six GNH international conferences, several countries, including the United Kingdom, Brazil, UNESCAP member countries, France, Germany and others are rethinking their national development priorities and including happiness indices as part of their development strategies.

Initiated by Bhutan, co-sponsored by 68 Member States, and unanimously adopted by the 193-members, on 19 July 2011, the United Nations General Assembly passed the resolution, “Happiness: towards a holistic approach to development.” Following this adoption, an international conference was held in Thimphu on “Economic Development and Happiness,” chaired by the hon’ble Prime Minister of Bhutan, Lyonchhen Jigmi Y Thinley and co-chaired by Professor Jeffrey Sachs, director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University. Representing various societal sectors, a panel of Nobel laureates, academicians, civil society representatives, economists, corporate leaders, small oceanic island representatives and researchers discussed new development possibilities. In April 2012, they will reconvene in New York City, with all proceedings, including GNH tools to be submitted to the UN and shared with all interested countries.

To be fully understood, the GNH concept, which at its heart presents a new way of living, must be applied and experienced. It presents an alternative to what is increasingly recognized as a destructive, consumerist approach to development. GNH principles will not only help people of every walk of life to contain their excessive desire and greed for material things, they will also be respectful of the earth and environmentally sustainable.

After almost seven decades of Bretton Woods’ unsustainable, conventional economic paradigm that has treacherously affected the earth and widened the gap between rich and poor, GNH could herald a new enlightened era.

Entering the third phase of this national experiment, Bhutan is eager to demonstrate the benefits of a GNH holistic paradigm. We are now educating about GNH principles and applying GNH accounting practices, which can be demonstrated in the following simple example: if we encouraged unhealthy lifestyles, the consequent investment in medical costs would increase the GDP; however, under a GNH plan, this would result in a deficit.

We also will begin constructing a GNH Centre—a long held dream of our Prime Minister. Open to people from all walks of life, GNH principles will be taught and practiced; participants will then return to their homes refreshed and invigorated, able to more effectively serve their families, neighbours, community and country with genuine purpose and compassion.

Situated on 46 acres of land and standing at the entrance of the largest national park, the Centre will be built in Bumthang—the most sacred cultural heartland of the country. Modeling and embodying GNH principles and values, building design and location will be harmonized with natural site features and ecological principles, using renewable energy, passive solar heating, and a zero waste regime. No motorized vehicles will be allowed on site. By harnessing local skilled labour, sourcing natural local materials, and leveraging local supply chains, the Centre will support the regional economy and highlight the rich human resources in the vicinity.

Catering to about 300 participants, the Centre will be developed with donor contributions, but it eventually will become a self-supporting, non-governmental entity with its own board of governors. Funding is currently being sought to realize this vision---for Bhutan and the world. Construction will begin in the summer of 2012 and a fully operational Centre will be open by the spring of 2014. Will you help us realize this vision?   


  1 Dr. Saamdu Chetri is Director of the Gross National Happiness Centre, Office of the Prime Minister of Bhutan. For further information, please write to saamdu.chetri@gmail.com or visit, www.gnhc.gov.bt.