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Bhutan aims for National Happiness, not skewed growth


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Treading a different path from the economic growth based development model, Bhutan has designed its own theory and practice of socioeconomic development focused on "Gross National Happiness."

The country, also known as Land of the Thunder Dragon, has been trying out the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH) since it was espoused by its former king former King Jigme Singye Wangchuck in 1970s.

The genesis of this concept goes to back to early 70s when this tiny and impoverished nation realised that in the pursuit of economic prosperity, many countries had lost their cultural identities, their spirituality, and compromised their environment.

Wary of the burst of consumer-driven economic growth which resulted in wide-spread spiritual poverty in other nations, the Bhutanese government was convinced that economic growth alone did not bring contentment.

However, Bhutan had to find an alternative approach to development which could monitor and regulate the nature and pace of change without compromising the essence of its citizens' well-being. Thus, the concept of GNH evolved from the constituent features of Bhutanese society before 1959, a socio-economic system based on a Buddhist and feudal set of values.

The principle of GNH stresses the need of striking a balance between material and non-material needs of individuals and society. Unlike other countries which are obsessed with increasing their Gross Domestic Product, Bhutan gives equal importance to nurturing and supporting spiritual growth and social needs of the community.

In 1998, Bhutan's Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley identified the "Four Pillars" of GNH, which today form the overall guiding principle for development in Bhutan.

The first pillar is sustainable and equitable socio-economic development which highlights the need to improve physical, intellectual, social and economic health.

Conservation of the environment is the second pillar of GNH. It is commonly believed that irresponsible activities in nature will lead to negative and therefore unhappy outcomes. Most Bhutanese accept the fact that the environment should be preserved for the future generations.

The Bhutanese government views promotion of culture, the GNH’s third pillar, as a crucial strategy to preserve the country's sovereignty. It has implemented policies that conserve and promote Bhutanese religion, language and literature, art and architecture, performing arts, national dress, traditional etiquette, sports and recreation.

Last but not the least is good governance. The Bhutanese believe that good governance is vital for the happiness of the people. Towards this end, a constitution was drafted and Bhutan is become a constitutional monarchy in 2008.

Some experts deem the concept of GNH as idealistic in nature which has nothing to do with the process of development. Others view this merely as a conventional development process.

Critics allege that because GNH depends on a series of subjective judgments about well-being, governments may be able to define GNH in a way that suits their interests. In the case of Bhutan, for instance, they say that the government expelled about one hundred thousand people and stripped them of their Bhutanese citizenship on the grounds that the deportees were ethnic Nepalese who had settled in the country illegally, though Bhutan's policies in this regard have no direct or obvious relevance to its use of GNH as an indicator guiding policy.

Other countries, notably Brazil, Italy, and parts of Canada, are exploring use of measurements derived from Bhutan's GNH as their primary indicator of well-being. Critics say that inter-national comparison of well-being will be difficult on this model; proponents maintain that each country can define its own measure of GNH as it chooses, and that comparisons over time between nations will have validity.

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