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Bhutan: A Window into the Kingdom of Happiness

Bhutan: A Window into the Kingdom of Happines

BHUTAN | Sunday, 23 November 2014 | Views [922]

When those familiar with Bhutan knew I'd be visiting, inevitably we would discuss Gross National Happiness. I was curious to see it in action and spent a lot of time thinking about it while in Bhutan and since my visit. What does it mean and how to classify it? Conceived by the fourth king in the 1970s when he was just 18, GNH rests on four pillars – good governance, sustainable socioeconomic development, cultural preservation, and environmental conservation – which are then further comprised of nine domains including psychological well-being, living standards, community vitality, and balanced time use. I think few will be able to find disagreement with these principles in any functioning society. In action, it seemed to be both personal philosophy and national policy framework. Not to say that everyone is blissfully happy – Bhutan is very much grappling with the real issues of development and modernization and there is ever widening income inequality in the country – but I did come away with the sense of a concern for the collective well-being.
To me, GNH seems to rest well on a foundation of Buddhism in a very Buddhist country. It was impossible to go more than a half mile before passing by a Buddhist temple, stupa, prayer flag or prayer wheel. It seemed that every Bhutanese building included Buddhist iconography, even the airport! There is a healthy respect for nature and cycle of life – some mountains are never permitted to be scaled. Also, with the rare distinction of never having been colonized and being such a small country, there is a strong national and cultural identity and pride. Men and women must wear traditional dress for official business. Photos of the reigning king and queen were everywhere – not just official buildings, but in hotels, restaurants, and bars, and sported as lapel pins. 

Do the Bhutanese have it figured out? No. But, evaluating progress not simply in terms of productivity and material achievement, I think their holistic approach is a very enlightened way of thinking that we can learn from on both personal and societal levels.

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