Gross National Happiness is a Good Thing

Bhutan is a small country with a big idea that can change the world. For many years now gross national happiness is how the country monitors its progress, which is the opposite to how other countries measure success (which is from the quantity of money exchanged).

With a world population more knowledgable about environmental destruction there is an increasing concern that wealth accumulation outranks the needs of people. Gross national happiness can change how we measure progress.

Since 1971, the country has rejected GDP as the only way to measure progress. In its place, it has championed a new approach to development, which measures prosperity through formal principles of gross national happiness (GNH) and the spiritual, physical, social and environmental health of its citizens and natural environment.

For the past three decades, this belief that wellbeing should take preference over material growth has remained a global oddity. Now, in a world beset by collapsing financial systems, gross inequity and wide-scale environmental destruction, this tiny Buddhist state’s approach is attracting a lot of interest.

Read more at The Guardian.

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Bhutan to go 100% Organic

Bhutan is an amazing little country that has banned cigarettes and measures its success not through the backwards-looking GDP but by Gross National Happiness. In another step to be the one of the friendliest to the environment, the Asian nation has now pledged to produce and consume only organic food!

“We have developed a strategy that is step-by-step. We cannot go organic overnight,” Gyamtsho said, describing a policy and roadmap which were formally adopted by the government last year.

“We have identified crops for which we can go organic immediately and certain crops for which we will have to phase out the use of chemicals, for rice in certain valleys for example.”

Bhutan’s only competitor for the first “100 percent organic” title is the tiny self-governing island of Niue in the South Pacific, which has a population of only 1,300. It aims to reach its objective by 2015-2020.

Nadia Scialabba, a global specialist on organic farming at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, says the organic food market and its premium prices are attractive for small countries and territories.

“This is happening in very small countries who are not competitive on quantity, but they would like to be competitive in quality,” she told AFP.

The global organics market was estimated to be worth 44.5 billion euros (57 billion dollars) in 2010, according to figures from the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture and the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements.

Read more.

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Gross National Happiness Redux

We’ve written about Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness before, but now that the new policy has been in place in a while, it’s a good time to revisit the topic.

First, Bhutan has very nicely posted all their research online.

Second, the good news is that Bhutan’s research is being applied elsewhere, within the rubric of the burgeoning happiness studies.

Studies of life satisfaction around the world are now enhanced by regular polling in many countries using a broad range of questions, and have led to consistent findings in recent years that the highest levels of satisfaction are found in such northern European countries as Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden—countries with a strong sense of social solidarity and attention to work-life balance, small income gaps, and—contrary to the thinking of American conservatives—high taxation rates.

These studies find that many relatively income-poor nations, such as Costa Rica and Colombia, also have high rates of life satisfaction, leading one group of British researchers to establish a “Happy Planet Index,” dividing life satisfaction scores by ecological footprints. They find that many so-called developing countries actually rank at the top of their index.

Read more at Worldchanging

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Gross National Happiness

Another cool thing about Bhutan is that they measure their well being using GNH opposed to GDP or GNP.

Gross National Happiness (GNH) is an attempt to define quality of life in more holistic and psychological terms than Gross National Product.
The term was coined by Bhutan’s former King Jigme Singye Wangchuck in 1972 soon after the demise of his father King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk who has opened up Bhutan to the age of modernization. It signaled his commitment to building an economy that would serve Bhutan’s unique culture based on Buddhist spiritual values. Like many moral goals, it is somewhat easier to state than to define. Nonetheless, it serves as a unifying vision for the Five Year planning process and all the derived planning documents that guide the economic and development plans of the country.
While conventional development models stress economic growth as the ultimate objective, the concept of GNH claims to be based on the premise that true development of human society takes place when material and spiritual development occur side by side to complement and reinforce each other. The four pillars of GNH are the promotion of equitable and sustainable socio-economic development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and establishment of good governance.

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Bhutan: A Nonsmoking Nation

Bhutan has become the first nation to ban smoking within its borders. I found this out via the linked Slate article and they point out that it’s a tricky issue banning something as “personal” as smoking. It seems Bhutan is the best suited nation to quit smoking because of its cultural roots.

Since Dec. 17, it has been illegal to smoke in public or sell tobacco. Violators are fined the equivalent of $232—more than two months’ salary in Bhutan. Authorities heralded the ban by igniting a bonfire of cigarette cartons in the capital, Thimphu, and stringing banners across the main thoroughfare, exhorting people to kick the habit. As if they have a choice.

So, having sat out the traditional development rush, Bhutan hopes to steer its own course, avoiding the mistakes of the industrialized world. Because of its homogenous and small population (anywhere from 800,000 to 2 million people, depending on which estimates you believe), Bhutan just might succeed in barring the demon weed. The nation’s unusual culture makes a sudden and complete tobacco ban possible. The country is ruled by a benevolent king, Jigme Singye Wangchuk, who is widely revered and universally obeyed. “Bhutanese are pretty happy to sacrifice for their fellow citizen,” says Linda Leaming, an American who has lived in Bhutan for the past eight years. “The individual is subjugated to the good of society.”
It also helps that Bhutan has few smokers compared other nations. Only about 1 percent of the population lights up, according to the health ministry. (Foreign observers believe the actual figure is 3 percent or 4 percent.) Tobacco isn’t grown in Bhutan. It is a very small, poor market, and it costs a tremendous amount to import goods. All these are factors that have reduced interest in cigarettes.

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