Gross National Happiness

Gross National HappinessYet another unique facet to Bhutan is that the socio-economic development goal is aimed at achieving not increased Gross National Product/Gross Domestic Product(GNP/GDP) but increased GNH Gross National Happiness (GNH). In fact, economic development is merely one of the four recognized ‘pillars’ of the GNH model.

GNH was the brainchild of His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuck who used Bhutan’s late modernization as a position from which to learn from the mistakes of other countries. One of his conclusions from modern world history was that societies everywhere were losing touch with spirituality and tranquility that contributed to people’s happiness.

In the early 80s, the king articulated the GNH concept to stress that economic success was necessary but it alone did not hold out the promise that a society would be content. It was not a means by itself but a means to a greater end. The GNH concept recognizes that the ultimate goal of development should be to create an environment where it is possible for people to realize happiness. This stands in contrast to the ideology of most governments and institutions as well as academia which remain indifferent to happiness of the general people, considering it a utopian issue.

GNH is Bhutan’s own unique model of sustainable development, a manifestation of Bhutan’s collective social and cultural consciousness. It therefore seeks economic development but not at the cost of corrupting administration, degrading one’s natural environment or diluting cultural values. Good governance, environmental preservation and promotion of cultural are thus the other three pillars of the GNH model.

The GNH ideology has generated a great deal of interest around the world. One of the countries has drawn up even a similar model that social scientists call “subjective well-being.”

Pillars of Gross National Happiness

The four main pillars of GNH are (a) Equitable and equal socio-economic development, (b) Preservation and promotion of cultural and spiritual heritage, (c) Conservation of environment and, 
and (d) Good governance. The pillars are interwoven, complementary, and consistent.

They embody national and local values, aesthetics and spiritual traditions. The concept of Gross National Happiness is now being taken up by various other countries, following in the footsteps of Bhutan. This has led them to define prosperity in more enhanced terms and to actually measure people’s well being rather than measuring what they actually consume. Crucial to a better understanding of Gross National Happiness are: (a) its wider reach and awareness amongst other countries, (b) the various indices that have been formulated to assess even material gains and (c) the growing need to synthesis the moral with the cultural values as the core of any economic policy.

Gross National Happiness as a development paradigm has now made possible for Bhutan to take its developmental policies into the remote corners and include the far flung villagers into the development aspects by meeting their needs and accentuating the need to protect and preserve our rich environment and forest cover. The success of Gross National Happiness can be found in many areas besides developmental aspects. The policy of low volume but high value tourism has indeed assisted not only in the high revenue generation but in fact facilitated the promotion and preservation of our cultural values.

Further, the concept of Gross National Happiness has greatly enabled her in the pursuit of development, at the same time promoting happiness as the core philosophy of life. For the government, it has facilitated the drive towards self-sufficiency and self-reliance, the ultimate reduction in the gap between the rich and the poor and ensuring good governance and empowerment of her people.

Following the international seminar on Operationalizing Gross National Happiness held in Bhutan in February 2004, the participants felt it useful to establish a Gross International Happiness Network, indicating the influence of Gross National Happiness beyond the Bhutanese Borders.

The network attempts to find best examples of sustainable development that incorporates values reflecting general well being of the people. The GNH network is a collaboration of the following institutions:

  • Center for Bhutan Studies, Bhutan
  • Spirit in Business, USA and the Netherlands
  • Social Venture Network Asia, Thailand
  • ICONS, Redefining Progress & Implementing New Indicators on Sustainable Development, Brazil
  • Inner Asia Center for Sustainable Development, the Netherlands
  • The New Economics Foundation, UK
  • Genuine Progress Indicators / GPI Atlantic, Canada
  • Corptools/Values Center, USA
  • International Society for Ecology and Culture, UK

Testimonials Sometimes a packaged holiday comes so much with a predefined set of takeaways, but The Destination Bhutan offered so much freedom of choice that it did not feel like a packaged holiday at all.


KH Zaman
Buffalo, New York



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