News / Asia

In Bhutan, Happiness Level Measures Success

Women, their teeth red from chewing betel nuts, laugh at a vegetable market in Bhutanese capital Thimpu (October 2006 file photo)
Women, their teeth red from chewing betel nuts, laugh at a vegetable market in Bhutanese capital Thimpu (October 2006 file photo)
Ron Corben

Most countries gauge progress in economic terms, but Bhutan famously marks its achievements by a measure known as Gross National Happiness (GHN). The idea, say officials, is to attempt to keep incomes rising without sacrificing the country’s overall well-being.

It has been almost four decades since Bhutan’s fourth king, Jigme Singye Wangchuk, promoted self reliance and progress in a fast changing world by creating the GHN paradigm.

The King based its principles on good governance, inclusive development, conservation and preservation of Bhutan’s unique Himalayan culture.

Equilibrium


GNH Commission Secretary Karma Tsheetim told a recent conference the old formula is still closely tied to the country’s development model.  

“It is an approach to development that we seek to balance the material with the non-material spiritual, cultural aspects and the needs of the individual in society," Tsheetim said. "This is based on a simple belief that at the end of the day what people want from life is to live a meaningful life.”

Traditional measures of economic progress such as a country’s overall economic output known as the Gross Domestic Product, minimum wages for labor, and the relative cost of food and basic staples are considered baseline measures for comparing the overall well-being of different populations.

Well-being

But development economists have long contended that there are important costs to growing economies, such as pollution, social dislocation and deforestation. They say those also affect people’s overall well-being, yet go unrecorded by traditional measures.

GNH Commission secretary Tsheetim says the Gross National Happiness paradigm offers an alternative approach to development.

“Basically what we see is that the way we are going about development today and particularly confusing progress with just GDP is actually leading to more problems than solutions," Tsheetim said. "We’re not saying that creating jobs is not good or poverty - reducing poverty - of course they are top agenda. We feel that development it has to be sustainable.”

Tsheetim’s GNH Commission sets development policies for the country, assesses development project applications, and determines how to measure the more intangible indicators of the country’s well being.

To help in the effort, officials work with outside groups. Researchers from Portland State University estimated that Bhutan’s “natural capital," such as its forests and lush mountain eco-systems, are worth some four times the country’s GDP.

The researchers highlighted Bhutan’s nearly 75 percent of forest cover as being worth some $14.5 billion.   

Outside interest

The Sustainable Society Institute at Melbourne University in Australia is also helping to set up a GNH development institute in Bhutan.   

Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk, Bhutan’s economics minister, says the country’s continuing commitment to its GNH principles are drawing foreign attention.

“GNH --- there is more and more acceptance and people are looking up to Bhutan. We have a huge responsibility and so as a first step we feel that we have to have it not only in terms of tourism but part of this national feeling,” the minister said.

Bhutan’s economic progress by traditional measures also has been positive. The country’s economy has averaged growth at close to seven per cent in recent years.

That growth has been spurred on by sales of hydro-electric power to India and foreign tourism - the leading foreign exchange earners.

Per capita incomes now exceed $2,000. U.N. economists say Bhutan is also on target to achieve its UN Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

Poverty

Part of the U.N. goals are aimed at reducing poverty.  Dorji Choden, head of the U.N. Development Program’s poverty section, says the country has a broad approach to that issue.  Officials look at a community’s access to roads, the extent of its agricultural production and the fertility of its land when considering which development plans that could bring it the greatest benefits.

“Then GNH elements of looking at environmental concerns, the social pattern of the community themselves, the holistic assessment and then the community vitality," Choden said. "It’s not one priority or the other but it’s really looking at it quite holistically - looking at it from all perspectives.”

The effort is not always easy in a country that still struggles with poverty. Chadho Tenzin, the Bhutan representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization, says as incomes rise and the country urbanizes, authorities are trying to maintain food security in many communities where there is limited fertile land.

Agriculture

Tenzin says the government may shift from focusing on supporting individual farmers to promoting cooperative farms that involve more intensive farming practices.

“At the national level if you want to go for food and nutrition security we need to have a more focused program, rather than going for this agriculture as a social program - we should have more focus, more concentrated areas where commercial farming is possible,” Tenzin said.

While commercial farming can produce more food, it can also carry higher environmental costs. Officials say that for their gross national happiness project to succeed, they need to keep a careful eye on the costs, benefits and challenges of each development strategy.

You May Like

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs