Early in March, Bhutan’s Planning Commission Secretariat brought together some 30 policy makers, ‘thinkers’, government officials and donors at a conference on Gross National Happiness (GNH). Officially, it was called “GNH and Human Development—Searching for Common Ground” to prepare for the release of Bhutan’s first Human Development Report.
But given the “profundity of the concept”, Bhutan’s Kuensel weekly reports, there was some confusion about what exactly constitutes happiness. “We found out that happiness is far too complex and elusive a concept to be defined,” said UNDP Programme Officer Stefan Priesner (probably the first person in the world to have a Masters in Happiness).
At the workshop’s inaugural function, a rapturous Cabinet Chairman Lyonpo Jigmi Y. Thinley scaled metaphysical heights saying that GNH defied any statistical device aimed at its quantification. “The possible measurability of GNH has been a thought provoking proposition… [it has been] suggested that it would be a speculative exercise into what is essentially a subjective experience.” Indeed, one man’s happiness may cost another man his wife.
Nevertheless, Thinley proceeded to lay out the four pillars on which GNH stands: economic development, environmental preservation, cultural promotion and good governance. Participants at the Thimphu Happiness Summit were not able to come up with a specific indicator for happiness.
“We feel we can contribute to development philosophy worldwide,” said one Bhutanese official. He could start with the world’s least-happy region—South Asia. As for the rest of the world, it could also do with less sadness.
Indian economist A.K. Shiva Kumar, another expert at the seminar, questioned orthodox, consumerist models of economic development. He told Kuensel: “In other countries, we are trying to correct market failures while Bhutan is uniquely placed.”
Bhutan’s Royal Institute of Management has prescribed a series of workshops on GNH, while the Centre for Bhutan Studies wants to sponsor further research on happiness. The world could definitely do with some improvement. And then maybe we can all live happily ever after.
In the meantime, lest anyone forgot the reason for this whole exercise, the provider of the GNH concept was none other than Druk Yul’s His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuk.