Wednesday, April 16, 2014

New Ideology - Gross National Happiness

The idea of happiness and well-being as the goal of development has always been a part of the Bhutanese political psyche. While this has informed Bhutan's development endeavors during the early part of the modernization process, it was not pursued as a deliberate policy goal until the 4th Druk Gyalpo His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck introduced Gross National Happiness (GNH) to define the official development paradigm for Bhutan.

GNH is premised on the belief that happiness is the ultimate desire of every individual, and by extension, the responsibility and purpose of the state is to create the necessary conditions that enable citizens to lead the good life. As such, GNH supports the notion that happiness pursued and realized within the context of the greater good of society offer the best possibility for sustained happiness of the individual. To this end, GNH stresses collective happiness to be addressed directly through public policies in which happiness becomes an explicit criterion in development projects and programmes.
Happiness in Bhutan is termed differently for the country is rich in its uniqueness in many ways. Bhutan is one single tiny nation in the world giving undeniable importance to Gross National Happiness rather than Gross National Product. Bhutan view happiness as the first and foremost priority and is geared towards making people happy. The Philosophy of GNH –an enduring insightful icon has now crossed the borders of Bhutan arresting the attention of international community and is now one of the Millennium Development Goals.

The write up focuses on Gross National Happiness popularly termed as GNH, the guiding developmental philosophy and the unique ideology of Bhutan. The write-up will also ignite a brief light on the origins and development of the fabulous ideology, the four pillars and domains of GNH, promotion of GNH concepts in schools of Bhutan making schools the perfect “green” place for children to learn, discuss GNH in Global age and the criticism of the ideology.

The rationale behind working on this particular ideology is to carefully scrutinize and unfold the beauty and relevance of the ideology in this modern age. The work is also deliberately aimed at in-depth study of the concept and its pragmatic relevance in the present modern day and beyond besides dissemination of the idea to others and future readers.

Origins and Development of Gross National Happiness
“Gross National Happiness” (GNH) was first coined by the 4th Dragon King of Bhutan. The concept had a much longer resonance in the Kingdom of Bhutan since 1629. The 1629 legal code, which dates back to the unification of Bhutan under a single ruler, declared that- “If the Gov e rnment cannot create happiness for its people, there is no purpose for the Government to exist.”
It was the young king who was 16 and a half years old then and had begun his rule as an absolute monarch – who, with a sense of inquiry into the purpose and the function of development, looked for the best model for Bhutan to follow, so did he presented His country a blessing paradigm.

In the later years, the 4th King Jigme Singye Wangchuk declared Gross National Happiness to be more important than Gross National Product(GNP), and the country gladly oriented its national policies and development plans towards Gross National Happiness or GNH. Constitution of Bhutan 2008 Article 9 confers that “The State shall strive to promote those conditions that will enable the pursuit of Gross National Happiness.” The concept was taken seriously, as the Centre for Bhutan Studies, under the leadership of Karma Ura, developed a sophisticated survey instrument to measure the population's general level of wellbeing. Michael and Martha Pennock from Canada played a major role in developing the Bhutanese survey, which took a six to seven-hour interview to complete. They developed a shorter international version of the survey which has been used in their home region of Victoria BC as well as in Brazil. The Pennocks also collaborated with Karma Ura in the production of a policy lens which is used by the Bhutanese GNH Commission for anticipating the impact of policy initiatives upon the levels of GNH in Bhutan.

Like many psychological and social indicators, GNH is somewhat easier to state than to define with mathematical precision. Nonetheless, it serves as a unifying vision for Bhutan's five-year planning process and all the derived planning documents that guide the economic and development plans of the country. Proposed policies in Bhutan must pass a GNH review based on a GNH impact statement that is similar in nature to the Environmental Impact Statement required for development in the U.S. Although the GNH framework reflects its Buddhist origins, it is solidly based upon the empirical research literature of happiness, positive psychology and well-being.

The Philosophy Gross National Happiness
GNH in Bhutan is absolutely distinct from the western literature on ‘happiness’ in two ways. First it is multidimensional – not focused only on subjective well-being to the exclusion of other dimensions – and second, it internalizes other -regarding motivations. In short it is constituted by many elements and domains in life. While multi-dimensional measures of the quality of life and well-being are increasingly discussed, Bhutan is innovative in constructing a multi-dimensional measure which is itself relevant for policies and is also directly associated with a linked set of policies and programmes screening tools. The first Prime Minister of Bhutan Mr. Jigme Yoezer Thinley, elected under the new Constitution of Bhutan adopted in 2008 declared that: “We have now clearly distinguished the ‘happiness’ … in GNH from the fleeting, pleasurable ‘feel good’ moods so often associated with that term. We know that true abiding happiness cannot exist while others suffer, and comes only from serving others, living in harmony with nature, and realizing ourinnate wisdom and the true and brilliant nature of our own minds.”

GNH includes living in harmony with nature that is not focused in western notions of happiness. Deriving happiness from serving others, and realizing the nature of our mind and fleeting pleasurable moods are also covered in GNH survey(2010) conducted by Centre forBhutan Studies. These concepts are widely discussed by the prominent psychologists like Martin Seligman who conducted studies on happiness. GNH is on a mission towards making Bhutanese a complete human being versed with values. The common goal of every individual is happiness as analyzed in the studies conducted by positive psychologists based on samples and nationwide GNH survey. The researchers
classified people into certain groups like happy, unhappy, very much unhappy and very much happy however the GNH index shows four categories of people – unhappy, narrowly happy, extensively happy, and deeply happy. GNH stresses collective happiness to be addressed directly through public policies which is absent in western notions of happiness making happiness an explicit criterion in projects and programmes. The society as a whole cannot obtain happiness if individuals compete for it at all cost irresponsibly.

In the United Kingdom (U.K.), Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian philosophy helped popularize the idea of happiness. Bentham’s Greatest Happiness Principle argued that “the purpose of politics should be to bring the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people”. This is what is central in GNH which reflects the most important pillars called Good Governance. This also shows that GNH as an ideology is linked to other ideologies.

The Four Pillars of Gross National Happiness
The Bhutanese grounding in Buddhist ideals suggests that beneficial development of human society takes place when material and spiritual development occur side by side to complement and reinforce each other. Gross National Happiness contains four main pillars:
  1.  Sustainable and equitable socioeconomic development
  2. Conservation of environment
  3. Preservation and promotion of culture
  4. Promotion of good governance
 Sustainable and equitable socioeconomic development
First things first, the socio-economic and the cultural pillars address the two dimensions of material and spiritual development while the other two pillars provide the bases and means for all actions in the realms of the material and spiritual aspects which are also covered in Positive Psychology researches. The specific discussion on these pillars will bestow a crystal clear view of what they really are.

Sustainable and Equitable Socioeconomic Development
Sustainable and equitable socioeconomic development does not prohibit economic growth and development, but is implemented by placing a priority on health and education sectors. It is estimated
that over 30% of the national budget of Bhutan is placed on the social sector. This financial dedication is tangible evidence of the government’s commitment to provide a secure livelihood for its citizens and one in which its population is healthy and educated. Along these same terms, capacity building in the development of professional skills to manage development has been a common program implemented. Other important social development facilities are widely available throughout the country such as schools, hospitals and agricultural centers. Additionally, policymakers have introduced a personal income tax in order to redistribute wealth more evenly.

Environmental Conservation
It is also valued widely throughout Bhutanese society as many citizens’ sources of livelihood
are dependent on their natural environment, especially those working agriculturally. 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 others and the future generation, limiting severe environmental degradation. Environmental benefits observed by GNH policies include:
  •  Characterization of the country as a biodiversity hotspot
  • Increased preservation policies
  • 72% forest cover, 26% protected areas
  • Written policy that the country will keep a minimum of 60% forest cover. The pillar is almost parallel to the new ideology called environmentalism as both belief that nature is an interconnected whole, embracing humans and non-humans, as well as the inanimate world.

Preservation and Promotion of Bhutanese Culture
The preservation and promotion of Bhutanese culture is another factor in development and GNHstrategy, as Buddhist cultural pureness ideology is widespread. It is widely believed that a decline in traditional heritage and culture will lead to a general dissatisfaction of society and has therefore preservation of culture is a high government priority. This is observed in the school system as all children are taught Bhutanese cultural values.

Good Governance
Good governance is apparent through the government’s dedication of promoting happiness and well-being of its citizens foremost. His Majesty the King withdrew from the executive function of government in 1998 and universal voting rights were introduced in 2002. Civil society has had the opportunity to provide input in legislative matters and a goal is in place to have a multiparty system by 2008. Efficiency, accountability and transparency are the core values of good governance in Bhutan.

Domains of GNH
The pillars are further extended into nine domains - psychological well-being, education, time use, community vitality, cultural diversity and resilience, ecological diversity and resilience, living standard, health, education, and good governance. Together they make GNH a holistic, sustainable and inclusive development paradigm. Some of the domains connected to happiness, are extensively discussed by the positive psychology researchers. The domains which are all positive are the genuine contributors towards creating happiness or that help people attain happiness and lead meaningful life. These domains appear in the five year plans of the government. GNH is thus undoubtedly the guiding developmental philosophy of Bhutan.

Bhutan in 2013 worked on the nine domains with experts hired from beyond borders who unanimously added the 10th domain to accommodate any fresh ideas that the existing nine lacked submitted the report to the UN in June 2013. Bhutan will also present a 20-30 document report on nine domains during the UN General Assembly in September 2014.

GNH infused in Schools of Bhutan
The concept of happiness can be best learnt by the lives of children. At the early age, they don’t understand the meaning of unhappiness and are not aware of miseries and calamities they have to face in coming times. They don’t have to take care of their financial needs and often spend most of their time as free as a bird. There will be reminders on a daily basis, in all aspects of education, from school administration to classroom to sports field. For instance, we have morning prayers. These prayers are just recitation of mantras that the children don’t understand or appreciate but the chants are well selected and the children are required to do a little bit of meditation instead of only chanting. Before the meditation, a topic will be chosen and the students will be told about a particular value to follow and practice for that day. So philosophy of GNH resides in the Schools of Bhutan. Each time a student delivers a speech, he or she will do research on that subject. While the audience will learn a little about the value being discussed, the speaker will have a far greater understanding, an understanding that will hopefully influence him for his entire life. This is the first basic step to instill positive values in the young hearts helping build up good intentions that will gradually make him/her happy. The school policies in Bhutan are guided by the philosophy of GNH. Green Schools for Green Bhutan is the central idea of the school policies. It includes all the positive ideals of safe school, waste free, free of violence and bullied, conducive environment etc. making schools the prefect green place for learning.

GNH includes all from old to young despite position, caste, creed and colour. So happiness is not confined within the four walls, it is much beyond the confinements and the seeds of happiness is thus bountifully sown in the schools for children’s heart like the wet cement can be greatly shaped.

GNH in the Global Age
GNH is going as well as it can be. From where Bhutan was, just a few years ago, when the small nation looked at happiness as something trivial, Utopian and impractical, now reached a stage where the whole world takes happiness seriously together with well-being. It is now a subject of discourse, not only at the national and sub-national levels but internationally as well.

The GNH philosophy has strong credibility to rekindle global concern for the common interest and the public good, especially today when many countries face severe economic problems, “caused at least in part by our own excessive preoccupation with profit and consumption.” In the face of global financial, food and fuel crises, the old development paradigm must be re-assessed and an alternative one found, and in this, GNH continues to give a refreshing perspective to development. Jigme Yoezer Thinley - the former Prime Minister of Bhutan was invited by the president of the Senate of the Belgian Parliament on 4th February 2014, to hold a meeting with the senate working group on the development of a new and more reliable set of indicators to measure the quality of life, well-being and happiness of the Belgian society. They thanked former Prime Minister for his role in setting into motion an international debate on the subject and appreciated Bhutan for being the beacon to a
more sustainable and happy human society.
The award of Honorary Doctorate to the former Prime Minister on 3rd February 2014 by Catholic University in Louvain of Belgium is a symbol of genuine acceptance and practicability of the philosophy of GNH in the modern era in the Western Hemisphere. The Belgian Parliament last February 2014 voted on the new set of indicators based in the Bhutanese unique model. They expected the bill to be successfully enacted.

In 2013, the President of Singapore Dr. Tony Tan proposed that in addition to building up substantial financial reserves, Singapore also needed to focus on building up its "social reserves", a concept that appears to have parallels to GNH.

The Kingdom of Bhutan’s GNH captivated media worldwide after its introduction at the first International Conference on Implementing Indicators for Sustainability and Quality of Life (ICONS) in Curitiba, Brazil, 2003. As media and NGO fascination with GNH grew, the prime Minster of Bhutan was invited in April 2012 to co-chair with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon a High-Level Meeting on Happiness and Well-Being: Defining a New Economic Paradigm. Speaking at the High Level Meeting on "Happiness and Well-Being: Defining a New Economic Paradigm" convened during the sixty-sixth session of the General Assembly the Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated that the world “needs a new economic paradigm that recognizes the parity between the three pillars of sustainable development. Social, economic and environmental well-being are indivisible. Together they define gross global happiness.” The meeting was convened at an initiative of Bhutan, a country which recognized the supremacy of national happiness over national income since the early 1970s and famously adopted the goal of Gross National Happiness over Gross National Product. This Summit was attended by a select but representative group of top government representatives, by all United Nations missions, and by leading economists, scholars and spiritual and civil society leaders, representing both developed and developing nations.

The General Assembly of the United Nations on 12 July 2012 proclaimed 20th March as the International Day of Happiness recognizing the relevance of happiness and well-being as universal goals and aspirations in the lives of human beings around the world and the importance of their recognition in public policy objectives.

On 19 July 2011, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, at the request of the Prime Minister of Bhutan, unanimously adopted Happiness as an independent goal for all countries. The UN is thus engaged in a process towards encouraging the countries of the world to seek a more holistic approach to development. The Prime Minister of Bhutan concluded after the meeting in the UN General Assembly "Happiness is now accepted by the international community as a timeless, shared vision that binds all humanity together, rich and poor." As a result of this meeting a Secretariat was established in Bhutan, supported by an International Expert Working Group, which industriously drafted a new global development paradigm for presentation to the UN in 2013. The heads of several states now have their eyes on Bhutan to learn how GNH can inspire them on their development path. Canada, Belgium, Thailand, Brazil and France are among countries that have begun to integrate GNH into national politics as a more viable alternative to the focus on growth and GDP.

In 2009, the 5th International Conference was held at Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil, with more than 800 participants. The conference was organised by Future Vision Ecological Institute and Itaipu BinationalHydroelectric Facility, in collaboration with the Centre for Bhutan Studies. The growing interest in GNH within Brazil has resulted from the work of Dr. Susan Andrews at the Instituto Visão Futuro which sponsored a series of events in São Paulo and Campinas in October 2008. Meena Srinivasan’s paper, “Gross National Happiness in the Classroom – A Teacher’s Thoughts” is couched on ever increasing complex global problems today and the role GNH values can play in promoting an ethical and ecological outlook that has the potential to make our world a better place for all peoples. She discusses her personal and classroom experience of teaching GNH in the American Embassy School in Delhi where she is a teacher. In her school students participate in ‘Happiness Lab’ and ‘Project Happiness’, meditate on compassion, understand dependent origination, and learn about deep ecology at an organic farm in India. She suggests teaching compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, harmony and social responsibility in schools. Dr. Ron Colman, Director of Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI Atlantic) was the chief organizer of the landmark 2nd GNH conference in Halifax, Canada. That conference brought GNH to the broad-based attention of the people in North America. Yet another significant conference of Bangkok and Nongkhai in 2007 suffused GNH like the waters of Mother Mekong, through the Mekong Delta countries.

The European Commissions’ Conference Beyond GDP in November, 2007, showed a new level of official interest. Britain’s New Economics Foundation released its Happy Planet Index following all the publicity around Bhutan’s efforts to measure Gross National Happiness (GNH) in that Buddhist nation. To date, there have also been G.N.H. conferences and seminars in Belgium, Denmark, Thailand, Canada, the Netherlands, New York and Brazil. According to Timsit, these activities provided the impetus for President Nicolas Sarkozy of France to commission Stiglitz, along with the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and the French economist Jean-Paul Fitoussi, to conduct a study of the “of economic performance and social progress” that included diverse G.N.H. indicators, ranging from walking to reading to the frequency of love making.

From an economic perspective, critics state 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. Economics professor Deirdre McCloskey criticizes such measurements as unscientific, saying that “Recording the percentage of people who say they are happy will tell you... just how people use words," making the analogy that society could not "base physics on asking people whether today was 'hot, nice, or cold”. McCloskey also criticizes the anti-consumerism of the movement to base government policy on happiness, asserting that "High culture has in fact always flourished in eras of lively commerce, from fifth-century Greece through Song China and Renaissance Italy down to the Dutch Golden Age."

Other critics say that international 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. GDP provides a convenient, international scale. Research demonstrates that markers of social and individual well-being are remarkably transcultural: people generally report greater subjective life satisfaction if they have strong and frequent social ties, live in healthy ecosystems, experience good governance, etc. Nevertheless, Bhutan's stated goal is to maximize whatever they see as GNH, not compare numbers with other countries. Alternative indicators of emotion as an analog to economic progress have also been supported by a number of NGOs such as the UK's New Economics Foundation, and are employed in some governments notably in Europe and Canada

Concluding Remarks
Traditional wisdom tells us that new thoughts and ideas emerge from chaos and devastation. If GNH must be the new order, then the old certainly appears to be giving way as manifest in the multiple crises that are testing the relevance and sustainability of the prevailing order. The financial, energy, and food crises as well as the natural calamities of the magnitude and frequency never seen before are, I believe, alarm bells to warn us away from living the way we do.

The theory of Gross National Happiness (GNH) established by His Majesty the King of Bhutan in 1972, is the foundation for development in Bhutan. GNH is based on the ideology that the pursuit of happiness is found in all people and is the strongest force of desires. GNH is a “middle path” approach in which spiritual and material pursuits are balanced. In the GNH Index, unlike certain concepts of happiness in current western literature, happiness is itself multidimensional – not measured only by subjective well-being, and not focused narrowly on happiness that begins and ends with oneself and is concerned for and with oneself. The pursuit of happiness is collective, though it can be experienced deeply personally. Different people can be happy in spite of their disparate circumstances and the options for diversity must be wide as focused in Positive Psychology Researches.

Lastly but not the least, let us dwell upon on what the great Philosopher Khalil Gibran gifted the world that has the capacity to create a classical affect in the lives of all human life – If you have learned the art of staying happy in all circumstances, then believe that you have learned the biggest art in the world.

  1. Dickens, C. (n.d.). The Mayor of Casterbridge. London: Oxford. 
  2. Dr. Luo Lu. (n.d.). Understanding Happiness . A look in the Chinese folk Psychology.
  3. International Institute of Management – US based GHN research, GNH policy white paper.
  4. Karma Ura, Sabina Alkire, Tsoki Zangmo and Karma Wangdi. (2012). A guide to Gross National Index. Thimphu: The Center for Bhutan Studies.
  5. Rad, R. R. (n.d.). Happiness. A literature of of Cross Cultural Implication.
  6. Rajni Bakshi, "Gross National Happiness", Resurgence, 25 January 2005
  7. Steve R. Baumgardner & Marie K.Crothers. (2009). Positive Psychology. India: Pearson Education.

No comments:

Post a Comment