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Gross National Happiness

"Gross National Happiness [GNH] is more important than Gross National Product [GNP]"   (H.M the 4th Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuck)

Introduction to GNH 


The 4th Druk Gyalpo His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck

The idea of happiness and wellbeing as the goal of development has always been a part of the Bhutanese political psyche. While this has informed Bhutan's development endeavours 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.

The term itself expresses the distinctive Bhutanese perception of the fundamental purpose of development, as a process that leads to peace and prosperity. Apart from the obvious objectives of development that seek to increase GDP on a national level and incomes at the household level, development in Bhutan encompasses the achievement of less quantifiable but highly qualitative objectives.

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.




The 5th Druk Gyalpo His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck

At the first international seminar on GNH that was held in Bhutan in 2004, His Majesty the 5th Druk Gyalpo clearly expressed that while the philosophy of GNH is inherently Bhutanese, its ideas have positive relevance to any nation, community or peoples.

In his words "I feel that there must be some convergence among nations on the idea of what the primary objective of development and progess should be - something that GNH seeks to bring about," and further "There cannot be enduring peace, prosperity, equality and brotherhood in this world if our aims are so seperate and divergent especially as the world shrinks to a global village."

The concept of GNH as a development philosophy has evolved into a national conscience, and is a bridge between the fundamental values of kindness, equality, and humanity and the necessary pursuit of economic growth such that it helps the a nation in making better and wiser decisions for the wellbeing and happiness of all Bhutanese.


1st PM

H.E The Prime Minister Lyonchoen Jigmi Y. Thinley

According to the Prime Minister of Bhutan, Lyonpo Jigmi Y. Thinley, GNH is the "translation of a cultural and social consciousness into development priorities…where Man can transform their infrastructure, polity and social organizations.” While conventional development models stress economic growth as the ultimate objective, GNH stresses that true development of human society takes place when material and spiritual development occur side by side to complement and reinforce each other.




Pillars of GNH

Pillar 1: Sustainable and Equitable Socio- Economic Development

The emphasis of national policy on people centered development has seen the continual improving of the social conditions of people through enhancing access to and the efficiency and quality of social services. This high priority was appropriately reflected in the significant scaling up of resources allocated for the social sector which received more than a quarter of the Ninth Five-Year Plan's total development outlay, which includes social sector expenditures at both the central and the Dzongkhag and gewog levels. In this regard, the country has exceeded its commitment to the Global 20:20 Compact agreed on at the World Summit for Social Development in 1995. The compact required developing countries to devote twenty percent of their national budget for basic social programmes. Bhutan remains among the very few countries in the world to have done so. As a result of these sustained social investments, Bhutan achieved significant progress in advancing general social conditions in the country, a development reflected in continued improvements in most of the social and human development indicators.  A more detailed treatment of the prevailing social and human development context over the next few years is provided in the 10th FYP Main Document.

In Bhutan's efforts towards the attainment of GNH, the country does not reject economic development.  Rather, it is the balance between economic growth and spiritual traditions that is sought.

The national policy is that to foster and enhance economic growth, it is necessary to first and foremost provide the capacity to engage in economic activities. This must be followed by identifying those areas of the economy which can be developed and contribute to national economic wealth. Bhutan as always paid particular attention to the development of the country's human resources. This is made evident in the successive national development plans wherby almost one-fourth of the Royal Government’s Plan budget has always been allocated to health and education sectors. By early 2000, this figure had reached almost one third. Considerable efforts have also been made in training and developing the capacity of the country in the professional and specialized skills that are required for the development and management of economic activities.

The creation of physical infrastructure such as motorable roads, telecommunications, energy, air links, etc, is also essential to enhance the productive capacity and to avail of the economic opportunities in the country. Added to this is the need to identify and invest in growth sectors such as the energy sector, tourism, utilization of mineral resources, enhancement of agricultural production and other service sectors that will contribute to economic wealth.

Prudential government rules and regulations together with development of financial services are also necessary to create an enabling environment for the enhancement of economic growth. The development of private initiative and capacity is necessary, but the creation of economic opportunities must be equitable so as to prevent wide disparities in income and opportunities.

Pillar 2: Conservation of the Environment

Sustainable development and environmental care is in the interest of every being. Strong ethics of conservation, underpinned by the traditional reverence for nature, have influenced the country’s environmental ethics and practice long before global concerns for environment were raised. The country’s first national park, Manas was established as early as 1966. Today, more than 26 percent of the country’s area is managed as protected areas to preserve the country’s rich biodiversity. 72 percent of the country is under forest cover, most of it in pristine condition. Although forest is one of the main natural resources of the country, one of the basic tenets of the country’s development philosophy is not to exploit it indiscriminately.

The natural environment has become an important economic asset to the country, particularly in the field of energy and tourism. The ethics of conservation must now go beyond the natural environment to cover emerging new areas such as waste management, pollution, recycling, and related areas, which will increasingly impact the quality of life in the future.

Pillar 3: Preservation and Promotion of Culture

For a small country like Bhutan, preservation of its rich cultural heritage is critical to its very survival as a nation state. In addition to safeguarding a sense of identity in a rapidly globalizing world, the living cultural heritage is a source of human values and beliefs that are of eternal relevance and critical for sustainable development. The traditional beliefs and customs underpinned by a strong reverence for all sentient beings and the environment promotes tolerance, compassion, respect, and charity, which are fundamental values for harmonious co-existence between humankind and nature.

In addition to providing a strong sense of identity and values to all Bhutanese, the preservation of the rich cultural heritage also provides a strong link and support between the individual and society at large acting as an effective social security net. The pursuit of individual self-interests during modernization often threatens the rich bonding of individuals as members of extended families and communities. It is necessary to preserve social bonds in which every one, whether children or elderly, are honoured and respected. The breadth and quality of social relations also lie at the root of happiness throughout a person’s entire life cycle, from childhood to old age.

Traditional social values and thoughts provide a benign and supportive role to social change and development.

Pillar 4: Good Governance

An individual’s quest for happiness, and inner and outer freedoms, is the most precious endeavor.

It follows then that society’s idea of governance and polity should promote this endeavor. The country is dedicated to establishing a system of governance that promotes well-being and happiness of its citizens. His Majesty the King continues to guide the country towards the fulfillment of that vision in the evolution of its political and social structures, encompassing both the strengths of the country’s resilient and ancient society, and genuine virtues of democracy.

Even before the advent of modernization in 1961, the country consisted of self-reliant and selfsubsistent communities, possessing well-defined community based rules and institutions to facilitate the use of common resources. In 1981, the fourth King initiated a vigorous program of administrative and political decentralization. The decentralization policy has enhanced the democratic powers, social responsibilities, transparent processes, and structures of villages and communities to make decisions at the grass-root levels. The Royal Government and its institutions continue making every effort to serve the people with integrity, accountability and transparency.

The greatest change in the devolution of power took place in June 1998 when His Majesty the 4th King voluntarily devolved full executive powers to a Council of Ministers elected by the National Assembly. On the 15th day of the 10th Bhutanese month corresponding to November 30, 2001 the 4th King took another historic step. He commanded the drafting of the constitution of the country by the drafting committee of the constitution. The scope and the magnitude of the initiative were unprecedented. While addressing the committee members a day earlier, His Majesty stated: “It is my duty, as the King, to strengthen the nation so that the people can develop in security and peace, and the nation becomes more prosperous and secure than before."

The year 2008 is momentous in all aspects in the history of Bhutan, and so in political developments and good governance. Institutional arrangements are in place to support the policy of good governance and recent developments over the year have demonstrated the effective and complete transition of the national polity to a democratic constitutional monarchy.

Measuring GNH

While much recognition has been accorded to GNH, there has also been much criticism, and most of which is directed on the difficulty of measuring GNH in quantitative terms. Bhutan’s determination to develop the GNH vision in concrete terms took a big step forward with the preliminary findings of rare GNH indicators.

The Centre for Bhutan Studies [CBS] had identified nine provisional GNH indicators that were used in the pilot survey to measure GNH in Bhutan. To avoid an isolated implementation of the study, and to arrive at a realistic measurement of GNH, the CBS had done extensive researching and assimilated lessons from “like-minded” organisations from as far as Canada and the UK.

The 9 provisional indicators which were used in the survey are:

  1. Standard of living,

2. Health of the population,

3. Education,

4. Ecosystem vitality and diversity,

5. Cultural vitality and diversity,

6. Time use and balance,

7. Good governance,

8. Community vitality, and

9. Emotional well being

This was a very encouraging sign as it came at a time when Bhutan was facing a most difficult challenge on the GNH policy, which is its measurement. Bhutan's GNH indicators were developed to reflect GNH values, determine GNH policies, and track GNH progress , and can reveal the conflicts of interests and the tradeoffs.Therefore, the indicators would specifically guide GNH-oriented allocation of public resources, maintain GNH as a public discourse, provide baselines and yardsticks of performance of local and national bodies, and encourage pro wellbeing behaviour among citizens.

These GNH indicators will be useful to measure changes and approximate the movements in the collective happiness of the Bhutanese population, which would then be a useful planning tool to drive, guide and evaluate the policies, decisions and performance of the government. In light of the political transition to a parliamentary democracy and the rapid economic growth, it was felt specially important that the danger would be that economic indicators could take over.

The first GNH pilot survey was conducted by the CBS between October 2006 and January 2007. The importance of the survey was that the GNH indicators would be able to support Bhutan in its pursuit of the GNH policy and whether certain things are going in the right direction because of interventions.

According to this pilot survey, more than 68 % of the Bhutanese are very happy with their lives. The survey showed that Bhutanese people rate income, family, health, spirituality, and good governance as their most urgent requirements to be happy.

What Does Gross National Happiness (GNH) Mean? 

Keynote address by H.E. Lyonpo Jigmi Y Thinley at The Second International Conference on Gross National Happiness "RETHINKING DEVELOPMENT " Local Pathways to Global Wellbeing at St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada June 20 to June 24, 2005