Gross National Happiness

Rare photo of BhutanUntil a few years ago I didn’t even know a country named Bhutan existed, only 110 miles from the north to south and 200 from east to west, Bhutan – called by its people Druk Yul, “the Land of the Thunder Dragon” – is home to a remarkable variety of climates and ecosystems. When I heard a long-time friend talk about a guy he had met from Bhutan and how cool and sane it was I Googled the name and began reading… WOW! It sounds like an absolutely amazing place!!! A place where we, in the US, can learn lessons and continue on the path of ‘positive’ change.

Many Americans are probably unaware of another historic election of 2008. Bhutan, once an absolute monarchy, became one of the world’s newest democracies in March. While this may not seem significant at first glance I think it deserves a closer look…

One thing I find outstanding about the Kingdom of Bhutan is that it’s a place where the Gross National Happiness is deemed more important than the Gross National Product.

Instead of focusing on gross domestic product (GDP), Bhutan measures gross national happiness (GNH).

When I read this, I stopped in my tracks… to be in the moment of what exactly gross national happiness was and what it might feel like. The more I thought about it, the more it touched my heart and soul, and what it might feel like to be a citizen of a country who felt their leaders actually cared about the average people. To know that my voice would be heard and the decisions made higher up in government would be a reflection of not only the average persons preference, but of something more tangible that reaches far beyond the superficial and beyond what benefits corporations.Kingdom_of_Bhutan

The more I thought about this the more it made sense and the more I liked it!

I know my heart and soul is not the only one out there that feels and desires something of significance – a community in balance, surrounded by people and a government.

I believe that Gross National Happiness is an important element in the survival and balance of a modern and civilized country. We’ve got a huge mess on our hands that was preventable, it is our own fault and we are the only ones who can do something about it.

A tiny Buddhist nation sandwiched between China and India, Bhutan can seem a universe away. Bhutan is a country of surprises and not just a nation of saintly, other-worldly hermits. Bhutan is straddling the ancient and modern world and these days you’ll find monks transcribing ancient Buddhist texts into computers as traditionally dressed noblemen chat on their mobile phones.

Many Americans are likely unaware of the other historic election of 2008. Bhutan, once an absolute monarchy, became one of the world’s newest democracies in March. The Bhutanese name for Bhutan, Druk Yul, means “Land of the Thunder Dragon” and it only began to open up to outsiders in the 1970s.

Many Bhutanese were initially squeamish about democracy. But their election in 2008, comprised of two parties with fairly similar agendas, was remarkably peaceful.

“What we have proven is that peace and stability are prerequisites to the establishment of democracy,” Mr. Thinley says. “In Bhutan, without having to worry about their daily security, survival, these basic things — people were able to reflect on the philosophy itself.”

Mr. Thinley adds that in many so-called democracies, “you trade your vote for a square meal. . . . The Bhutanese didn’t have to do that.”

He draws a contrast to countries where “democracy has been the child of a convulsive process . . . instability, war and revolution. And then, those people who came to power knew how to create revolution, how to stir people, and how to fight against despots and authoritarianism — but did not know how to govern, how to serve.”

Wow… the Bhutanese people don’t have to worry about their daily security, survival and basic things, the sheer fact that people were able to reflect on the philosophy itself, wow… how many of us can honestly say we have had this experience?

How many of us even have the time anymore to ‘reflect’ on the philosophy of democracy?

How many of us are ‘not’ trying to survive right now?

How many of us feel that the leaders of the US know how to ‘govern’ and ‘serve’ without resorting to war, or without creating instability at expense of our country and our people?

Mr. Thinley goes on to say this about his idea of good governance…

“We have to ensure that in the first five years of our governance [this is a new democracy] we act completely within the confines of the constitution . . . that the rule of law prevails under any circumstance. . . . We will respect and ensure the absolute separation of the three branches of government, that’s the judiciary, executive and the legislature.”

Clearly, the Bhutanese have taken the time to look around at other countries and think about what works, what doesn’t work, how do democracy’s fail to live up to their expectations and what happens when they do fail. Is this smart, or what!?

Mr. Thinley says the U.S. constitution is “defined the conceptual framework within which all other constitutions have been drafted. And so the United States Constitution was certainly a major document that inspired and that was referred to by the constitution committee.”

Democracy, according to Mr. Thinley, boils down to “the empowerment of the people, the freedom of the voter. . .  giving the capacity to the individual citizen to determine his or her own destiny. Now if these are what democracy provides, then I would say that regardless of what culture you belong to, democracy is essential.”

Mr. Thinley goes on…

Some will make the (basically pro-authoritarian) argument that some cultures don’t want to determine their own destiny. “People can be made to think that way.” Human beings are a “very interesting species . . . as intelligent as we are we can act and we sometimes appear to prefer to act in the most foolish ways. As much as we inherently search for, yearn for, freedom, we very willingly submit ourselves to subjugation and tyranny. And then find ourselves saying: This is how we like it.”

What Mr. Thinley said reminds me of what has come to be my favorite quote of recent years…

“A truth’s initial commotion is directly proportional to how deeply the lie was believed…When a well-packaged web of lies has been sold gradually to the masses over generations, the truth will seem utterly preposterous and its speaker a raving lunatic.” ~ Dresden James

Mr. Thinley will continue to implement the government policy of tiny Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness…

“Happiness is not hedonistic, it is not the kind of fleeting pleasures that we seek.” It has to do with “being able to balance material needs of the body and the spiritual needs of the mind.”

He says the conditions for the pursuit of happiness has four pillars:

  1. Equitable and sustainable socioeconomic growth
  2. Conservation of the fragile Himalayan economy and environment
  3. Cultural preservation and promotion
  4. and good governance.

Constitution of Bhutan

Mr. Thinley admits that there’s a limit to what the government can deliver. It can try to create the right conditions, but “the individual himself and herself must pursue happiness.”

It sounds as if Mr. Thinley is on the right track and that the people of Bhutan take an active role in their lives and their beautiful country.

My hope is that the people of the US take a similar path as the Bhutanese people and government. I think it’s time we do what we must do to get on the track of Gross National Happiness!

What do you think Gross National Happiness would look like and feel like? Leave a comment…

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