Seeking Happiness - The Bhutanese Way

Email

Dasho Kinely Dorji analyses the concept of Gross National Happiness and its impact on life in Bhutan.

(Source: Chencho Dorji)

 

By Dasho Kinely Dorji Kuensel

People and organisations in many countries around the world claim to have adopted Bhutan’s human development vision of Gross National Happiness (GNH).

However, what they actually portray is different people’s perceptions of GNH. Some are philosophical, some are well researched academic constructions, while the others are spaced-out theories.

GNH has been described as an esoteric philosophy, an inspiring concept, a developmental goal, a measure of development, a wake-up call, and so on.

It is also being criticised as a platform for ambitious politicians, a mere catchphrase, an empty promise, meaningless platitudes, a purely intellectual concept, as well as an academic redundancy.

If confusion is truly the beginning of wisdom, all these are ‘wonderful’. I, too, would like to add to the confusion by sharing my understanding of GNH, by attempting some responses and clarifications to ideas that are being exchanged.

What exactly is ‘Happiness’?

To talk about GNH, I believe that we have to first define what happiness is.

I know that the world’s greatest minds have been trying to define happiness for centuries but I have my own idea of a GNH perspective on happiness.

The happiness in GNH is not fun, pleasure, thrill, excitement – or any other fleeting emotions, it is the deeper and permanent sense of contentment that we consciously or, in our sub-conscience, seek.

Have we achieved GNH in Bhutan? The answer is ‘No’. But has GNH had an impact on Bhutanese society? Yes.

 

Source: Youtube/NowThis World

Everyone who has visited Bhutan senses a different atmosphere from the moment he or she arrives. I believe that this sense comes from the values that have been nurtured over the centuries.

Today, we are calling it GNH, therefore, I offer my understanding of GNH as it exists today.

I see GNH in four forms – the intuitive, the intellectual, the responsibility and the emerging global.

The intuitive

First of all, I see intuitive GNH values in past generations of Bhutanese who had strong mutual understanding and enjoyed interdependent existence as members of small rural communities.

The village astrologer, the lay monk, the lead singer, the carpenter, the arrow maker, the elders and the youth, all of them had their own responsibilities.

The values, drawn from Buddhist teachings, from the experience and wisdom of our ancestors and from the very practical needs of a subsistence farming lifestyle, inculcated a reverence for an interdependent existence with all life forms, or all sentient beings.

Some examples of these are seen in the reluctance to hunt and fish (both of which are banned in the country), the sometimes frustrating tendency to be less ‘productive’ to avoid hurting or upsetting someone, and putting up with the cacophony of an unruly stray dog population. To put it simply, people basically identified with their own priorities in life.

In the 1980s, farmers of one village were taught successfully to do a double crop of paddy, meaning that they doubled their rice production that year.

However, they refused to do it the following year because, as one farmer said, “We did not have time to play archery, to enjoy our festivals or to bask in the sun.”

The philosophical

Another perception level I see is the attempt to define, explain and measure GNH, along with the academic construction of the concept.

The four pillars and nine domains of GNH

Graphic: hlpearthblog.wordpress

As discussed earlier, the best accepted definition of happiness is the abiding sense of inter-relatedness with all life forms and of contentment that lies within the self.

This is related to the happiness that Buddhists seek from the practice of meditation.

In one understanding of GNH as a development vision, a representative of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) described it as a much more advanced concept of the Human Development Index that the UNDP has been refining.

The responsibility

This takes me to the third perception: GNH as a government responsibility.

As discussed, I think the definition of happiness as the abiding sense of contentment as well as GNH as a government responsibility make basic sense, although the translation of these into policy, legislation and prioritised activities is very much still a work in progress.

In other words, we may agree on goals, values, and responsibilities, but differ sharply on the best strategies to achieve these goals.

And yet, it is the recognition that GNH must be the basis of mainstream policy thinking that sets Bhutan apart from some countries that have expressed interest in harnessing the values of GNH.

As we have seen during the GNH conferences in Thailand, Brazil, and Canada, some people doing good work among their communities, such as the NGOs and civil society organisations, thought that they have found an identity in GNH.

In Bhutan, however, the four pillars and nine domains of GNH have given politicians and bureaucrats some idea of national priorities.

This is useful because public servants do not intellectualise policy but make decisions that have an impact on all citizens.

The international discourse

The fourth perception level is the “internationalisation” of the GNH discussion.

 

Source: Youtube/Schumacher College

 

Bhutan has certainly not worked out the solutions to the world’s problems, but I think we have opened up an amazing conversation and we need to give this conversation coherence and direction.

The concept of GNH, even partially understood, excites and inspires people. After five international conferences on GNH and the April 2 meeting in New York, one criticism at home has been -  stop preaching GNH overseas and make it work in Bhutan.

This is a resounding example of the need for clarity in GNH thinking and understanding. Here, I emphasise the point that we are not preaching to anyone, rather, we ourselves are learning.

There is a vast amount of research, analysis and experimentation done on GNH-related issues such as sustainability, well-being, climate change and much more, by intellectuals including Nobel laureates, by universities and institutions and by civil societies.

Bhutan must learn from them to in order to deepen its own understanding of GNH.

International discourse can only benefit Bhutan because we ourselves do not have the capacity to undertake the necessary research and analysis required to implement the tenets of GNH fully at home.

In conclusion, there is a growing understanding of, and even fear that the human population, driven by the values of GDP, is literally consuming the earth.

That is why GNH is a pun on GDP which used to be known as Gross National Product. The loud message is that human development needs a higher goal, that is, beyond GDP.

 

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

 

 


Related Posts

Harnessing Tenets Of Gross National Happiness To Make Brand...

Brand Bhutan Education can potentially also become a new sector in the economy.

Sep 06, 2019 10:58

Incorporating The Values Of Gross National Happiness Into...

High-end hotels like Six Senses and Zhiwa Ling have come up with their own ways to incorporate the tenets of GNH and...

Jun 09, 2019 19:28

Applying Bhutan’s Tenets Of Gross National Happiness As...

The UNDP Administrator said that there was an extraordinary alignment between the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 and...

Mar 19, 2019 10:38

Bhutanese Youth Devised Gross National Happiness Projects At The...

About 30 students attended the workshop from seven colleges in Bhutan.

Jul 16, 2018 18:41

Applying the Concept of GNH on Social Enterprises

The essence of a social entrepreneur is what they can do and how they can balance the social and the commercial aspects...

Nov 14, 2017 07:47

Bhutan Is One Of The Few Remaining Countries With A Degree Of...

‘Bionomics in the Kingdom of Bhutan’ was written by Ugyen Tshewang (Dr), Jane Gray Morrison and Michael Charles Tobias.

Dec 28, 2018 07:44

Latest

News

Canadian Delegation Held 1st Biennial Consultations, Set To Foster Closer Ties With Bhutan

The two sides exchanged views on the recent political, economic developments and bilateral cooperation in Bhutan and Canada.

Nov 26, 2019 23:38

Bhutan Celebrates World Children’s Day, Renews Commitment To Well-Being Of Children

UNICEF’s Bhutan Representative, Dr Will Parks said that children today encounter multiple challenges to childhood that were not envisaged 30...

Nov 21, 2019 23:38

Features

Civil Servants Sponsored Festival In Remote Village Of Bhutan, Brought Joy To Many

The tshechu draws devotees from across the dzongkhag, and even the neighbouring Indian town of Tawang.

Dec 11, 2019 13:18

Five High End Hotels From Bhutan Bagged International Awards

The five award winning hotels are: dusitD2 Yarkay, Terma Linca Resort and Spa, Zhiwaling Heritage, Le Meridien Thimphu and Taj Tashi hotels.

Dec 02, 2019 22:38

Sports

Karma – Female Archer From Bhutan Qualified For Tokyo 2020 Olympic Quota

Karma has been specialising in Olympics-style archery since 2009.

Nov 30, 2019 13:18

Bhutan’s Pelden Wangchuk Wins 10th Edition Of Tour 0f Dragon Mountain Bike Race

This year, the race also saw the highest number of female participants compared to past years.

Sep 10, 2019 01:08

Business

Celebrating Bhutan's Entrepreneurs: Namgyle Dorji & Nagendra Kafley Of Bundle.bt

This story is part of an exclusive feature by Yeewong Magazine in Dec 2018 on celebrating entrepreneurship in Bhutan.

Dec 09, 2019 14:38

India, Singapore And Thailand – Top 3 Asian Foreign Direct Investments In Bhutan

The total number of FDI projects in Bhutan stands at 83 as of November this year.

Dec 07, 2019 19:28

Travel

Bhutan’s Black-Necked Crane Festival Drawing More Foreign Tourists

Some 500 tourists from around the world came to Bhutan to see the Black-Necked Crane festival, exceeding the number of locals.

Nov 14, 2019 23:18

Bhutan Bird Festival Set Bird Watching Haven Of Zhemgang Abuzz

Zhemgang is home to more than 500 species of birds, which is an area much sought after by bird watchers from around the world.

Nov 13, 2019 12:48

Lifestyle

Bhutanese Textiles To Be Exhibited In Paris Trade Fair 2020

The exhibition is an initiative of the EU-Bhutan Trade Support project.

Nov 10, 2019 12:48

Launch Of Karen Greenspan’s Footfalls From The Land Of Happiness: A journey Into The Dances Of Bhutan

The book delves into familiar subjects that are what continues to shape Bhutan’s image.

Oct 05, 2019 10:18

Subscribe to our newsletter

Never miss out on new happenings and news stories!

Download Daily Bhutan Mobile App

Connecting with us just got easier!