Harnessing Bhutan’s Concept Of Gross National Happiness As Soft Power


Bhutan is a soft power in its own right.

Black Neck Cranes flying across the sky with a Dzong (monastery) seen in the background. (Source: Bateman Centre)



By The Bhutanese

“What is soft power? It is the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments. It arises from the attractiveness of a country’s culture, political ideals and policies.” 
                                                                                           Joseph S. Nye Jr


Bhutan is at an important juncture as we stand ready to graduate from our least developed country status in 2023 and become a middle income country, albeit at the lower end of the scale.

This graduation will mean that we have achieved or are close to achieving our main and basic socio-economic goals. It will also mean that our economy is heading towards self-sufficiency.

Bhutanese students making traditional boots. 

Photo: Medium/Outofboxadvertising


Having achieved and maintained political and economic stability and with our sovereignty strengthened, the question to ask is –what’s next?

At one level, Bhutan, despite having limited resources, has never hesitated to go for its own identity and growth model that we now know as Gross National Happiness. This has served us well and played a huge role in getting us where we are today, both as a nation and people.

How can Bhutan tap on its attributes as soft power?

Bhutan is a soft power in its own right and as we graduate and move ahead, we should capitalise on this not just to strengthen our international presence and identity, but also to better understand our own domestic issues, challenges and solutions to them.


Punakha Dzong (Monastery) located on the banks

between the male and female rivers.

Photo: Druk Asia


For this, we have to not only engage with the best minds in the field but with those who also deeply care about Bhutan.

Role of the International Society of Bhutan Studies

This is where bodies like the International Society of Bhutan Studies (ISBS) comes in to provide us with a valuable and well networked resource centre that does not just focus on the usual GDP and hard power (which we lack), but focuses on more relevant areas of our strength such as culture, ecology, bio-diversity, good governance, linguistics and more.

It can also look at important social issues like education and public health, among other areas.

Bodies like the ISBS is not only a way to strengthen our own academic, social and policy resources but it can also help us to shape and control our narrative at the international academic level.


This article first appeared in The Bhutanese and has been edited for Daily Bhutan.



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