Saturday, October 08, 2005

Happy Bhutan

Michael Higgins recently asked "What can Finland teach us?" -- the 'us' in his question refers to ethnically diverse countries. One can ask a similar question about many other small countries as well, and Bhutan would certainly qualify to be in that group. This pesky little Himalayan kingdom in our neighbourhood has instituted an interesting set of policies meant for growing its people's Gross National Happiness (GNH). These policies have made the mighty NYtimes sit up and take notice, leading to a long news story (that ties many strands into a nice happy knot), and an editorial a few days later.

We blogged about positive psychology (happiness science! ;-) just a few days ago. This is certainly a pleasant (happy?) follow up. From the NYTimes story:

In 1972, concerned about the problems afflicting other developing countries that focused only on economic growth, Bhutan's newly crowned leader, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, decided to make his nation's priority not its G.D.P. but its G.N.H., or gross national happiness.

Bhutan, the king said, needed to ensure that prosperity was shared across society and that it was balanced against preserving cultural traditions, protecting the environment and maintaining a responsive government. The king, now 49, has been instituting policies aimed at accomplishing these goals.

Now, from the editorial:

An economic cynic may argue that a country with a gross national product as small as Bhutan's can well afford to worry about its gross national happiness, and that the best way to increase G.N.H. is by increasing G.N.P. But that is essentially an untested assertion, and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that it isn't necessarily true. Our sense of happiness is created by many things that are not easily measured in purely economic terms, including a sense of community and purpose, the amount and content of our leisure and even our sense of the environmental and ecological stability of the world around us.


  1. Anonymous said...

    Hi Abi
    Thanks for linking to my piece. Bhutan and their gross national happiness actually came up as a subject in that comment thread. I feeling was and is that gross national happiness is impossible to protect without a decent military which will require some GNP.

  2. Anonymous said...

    Nice Article on Happy Bhutan.
    Here is some link to a article published on the New york times on Gross National Hapiness.
    The link is :
    or article and Travelogue on Bhutan are at

  3. Abi said...

    Michael, Jigme Tsering: thanks for the comments.

    Michael: Yes, GNP growth is necessary for maintaining the 'happy state' over the long term. But, isn't it also interesting that a re-orientation of their policy has produced such miraculous results (huge improvement in social indicators, even with small GNP growth) over such a short term? Unless someone can prove that this policy reorientation is a one-way street to disaster, I guess Bhutan will continue to be some kind of a role model.

  4. Anonymous said...

    GNH of Bhutan is an illusion. Given a choice to emigrate to other developed countries there will be mass exodus from Bhutan. GNP is more lovable than GNH as that experiment will show. You can love Bhutan for a few days while travelling. But to live there long time by westerners is a different story altogether.

  5. Anonymous said...

    I believe in GNH. Its a human approach to developing society. Maybe thats what makes it hard to quantify.

  6. Jigme Tsering said...


    I definately believe that spiritual wealth is equally as important as material wealth. For example you can see people around you who are really rich, but they are far more alianated that some people who are poor yet have large families where they can share their joy and pain. I guess it is all in the mind.

    Here is a link of a short video on bhutan by Ted Henry of channel 5 news. The website is