Bhutan and Happiness centered development paradigm, Thimphu, Bhutan.
Bhutan coordinated a conference of Happiness Experts from 30th January – to – 2nd February, 2013. They were in search of the elusive path to a new development paradigm that could replace the decades of GDP and GNP centered development goals. Ordinary Bhutanese had no role but the brief news in the media provided a glimpse of the diversity within ( maybe confusion and turmoil ) of views that prevailed amongst some 40 or more international experts and Bhutanese proponents of Gross National Happiness.
Is it possible to work out a realistic and practically meaningful framework, for a new development paradigm, centered on human happiness that can be a viable substitute for the decades of GDP guided economy that promoted materialism and consumption? Some experts felt that Bhutan had advocated this business of happiness and therefore Bhutanese should show the way whilst few shared an equal sense of responsibility and still for others it was a forum to expound their individual or organizational agenda on democracy, environment and social affairs.
One thing was clear, the Bhutanese nine domains of happiness was adopted as the basis for conference to work upon because the experts had no pre-prepared proposal nor could they agree on alternate dimensions during the 1st day of brain storming. And definitely they were hard pressed for time and therefore condescended to work upon these nine domains with an escape clause to add a 10th domain if called for.
From the few cursory articles in the media and three interviews telecast by BBS, somehow it did not strike to me, that the experts have had a realistic grasp of the task, ‘framing a conception for a new development paradigm that would be focusing on human happiness, post the millennium goal (2015)’. They were hopeful but not at all confident of going about the task at hand. Few even were washing their hands off with such remarks as : “the Bhutanese people should make clear how to go about this” ; “it is Bhutan’s call and it is Bhutan’s show” ; “the report must go under the aegis of Bhutanese government.” (reference: Kuensel)
If only Bhutan had the intellectual capacity and financial resources, to frame a conceptual happiness centered road map (internationally acceptable and workable diagram) for a new development paradigm on our own, the Bhutanese person by now would be in the 7th heaven. We need outside finance, experiences and intellectual inputs to find a trek-able path to achieve the goal we have set, “being happy”. And if this path is discovered, it will provide the highway for other nations to speed on.
Happiness should have been the very purpose of life beginning from the 1st life and maybe like many ironies in life, we the human beings realized this purpose only when we reached the end of our lives. By then it’s too little of happiness and too late in time to again revisit our life journey.
However, more than two centuries ago, a founding-father of a nation wrote down his moenlam (prayer) for his nation, “Life, Liberty and pursuit of Happiness…” Whether that nation pursued happiness or domination, one must leave it to experts to debate and squabble and for historians to write the epitaph. But what cannot be disputed is that a Buddha-like-nation-founding-father realized that the happiness of its citizens must be the guiding goal of a great nation.
Several decades ago, a young Buddhist King of a little known Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan resonated this very theme of happiness, “Being happy is more important than being wealthy”. And this wisdom was fashioned to relate to the acceptable jargon of development concepts such as GDP and GNP. Thus the birth of Gross National Happiness (GNH).
His Majesty King Jigmi Singye Wangchuck experienced what life was, absent of happiness. By destiny he was born to be a King and by fate of life he was pre-maturely crowned the King in 1972 at the age of 16. The young King was faced with the titanic task of healing the agony and the wounds of the broken royal families and at the same time provide anchor to a rudderless nation that was at imminent danger of sovereignty risk. For a long time, happiness and peace of mind was a scarcity beyond the grasp of His Majesty.
In being a King, he had the temporal powers and by Bhutanese’s meager standard, the King could be considered wealthy. But happiness was more elusive to him than to a yak herder in the mountains of his Kingdom. Therefore, when he said, a few years later, that his priority was to secure happiness for his people, he meant it from the bottom of his heart. It was not a statement of political, economic or social definition of his reign. It was what he missed most in his early reign and he did not want his people to be also deprived of the true essence of life, “Being Happy”.
The foundation of happiness at national level is achieving peace and security. And at family level it’s sharing love and pain and at community level (village or world) it is sharing the burden and the privilege. Joy, ecstasy and comfort contribute to sense of being happy but these are not happiness in themselves. To a Caribbean lying on a white sandy beach under a palm tree could be pure joy. A young couple in loving embrace may experience ecstasy and there is comfort for elderly couples in sharing the same bed. Being happy is more than just being religious, having food and shelter or experiencing pleasure. It’s just not restricted to equal opportunity and justice and freedom from fear and aggression. It is attaining the moral height of accepting ownership and onus in equal proportion. It is respecting other’s space without having to fight for one’s right. It is the ability to appreciate the strength of the male and charm of the female ( law of nature ) and the protection of the weak (mother’s instinct) and principles of community co-existence ( sharing the burden and privilege ).
Unlike the fields of economics and science, happiness has no set formulae. It is a conciliatory effort that needs to be constantly energized at different levels and at various stages of life between persons, communities, races and nations to make possible for the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak to attain their level of satisfaction and harmony in life.
Pillars of happiness need to be grounded upon the field of reasonableness. Being reasonable is accepting what belongs to others to be theirs. Therefore it is not proper or decent to demand that the fruits of other’s labour (wealth) be distributed. Rather the call must be for sharing the burden and the privilege. The common desire must be to seek accommodation with and not domination over neighbour, race or nation.
In co-existence of communities, lies group happiness and in family harmony, lies individual member happiness. At individual level my happiness must not be the root cause of your illness. And at international level, your national supremacy must not subjugate my national aspiration. Only then peace and harmony can prevail and thus provide the foundation of human happiness at world level. Thus the new development paradigm must be based on selfless investments and policies to promote national wellbeing and which fosters individual and community happiness for the present as well as for the future.
GDP and GNP still have relevance to individual and national pursuit of life but no longer in the pivotal way that had been defined in the earlier decades because we now know that wellbeing is one level above the economic comfort of food, shelter, health and education. Happiness cannot be defined but it can be felt and seen. If Bhutanese truly achieve happiness it will be noticed by others without the need of explanations and statistical measurement of dominant scales.
In the far future, when the Nations of the UN Family understand that their aspirations need to be in complementary with that of their fellow neighbours, the seed of happiness would germinate. And the Kingdom of Bhutan would then have truly contributed to the wellbeing of the human being. Until then the Bhutanese leaders, the assorted pool of international experts and UN Agencies need to keep juggling the dominos and weighing the dominant factors in search of the path to the illusive plateau of happiness even after the spring of 2014 that may see at the UN, a detailed and complete report on the new development paradigm.
Sangey of Haa Wangcha
Yes, in the nutshell, i concur with the view that unlike material and measurable quantities, concept like happiness will not find any shape or form that could be measured or quantified.: And there will not be any agreement as to how happiness could be measured and quantified. Thus, i feel that it is a waste of time and resources if so-called experts are attempting to formulate development paradigm centered around happiness. Happiness is a relative concept that may be experienced momentarily at any place, time and stage of ones existence regardless of socioeconomic status of individuals. Beggars on the street may be carefree or happy if he/she gets something to eat or wear. But does it means we try to reduce our status to the level of beggars on the street??? The purpose of life is something more than having enough to eat, wear etc.
It is not correct for Bhutan to claim ownership of happiness and be leader of this abstract concept. I feel very uncomfortable when some of our leaders assume leadership of happiness. At best, we leave happiness as topic for informal discussion among all sorts of people, but do not make it as development paradigm because it will always elude us in this materialistic world.
I agree with the profound views of both authors with respects. There is much clamor in the name of happiness (that too to the national level as GNH, implying generosity) but in true sense its destroyers persistently seek the privilege of authorship… What a shameless deed in the name of benign creed!
God save Bhutan and Bhutanese from these forces of MARA (decay and death).
1. what will be wrong if we keep the concept of GNH as simple as what our 4th His Majesty King propounded.
2. 9 domains 72 indicators bla,bla. bla many more what more will be added never known here after. And none of the intellectuals is wrong; they keep on interpreting which ever way they want.
3. Different Economic models by foreigners started to creep in to GNH like never before. Eg: GNH index development to measure happiness and poverty.
4. Policies and plans to be tested using the GHN screening tools is another flaws. Our FYP outlay plans has to come from grass root level which means from Geog. How many Azha Gups can use those GNH tools for planning in grass root. Even planning officer might not have clear pictures with those GNH models and screening with indicators.
5. If even educated lots don’t understand the such complex economic models used with GNH; how our
local people those not educated will be in a position to use. Literacy rate is still less than 60%.
Lets keep it as simple as it was. Is it necessary to use economic concept to refine GNH, we don;t care GDP
What is wrong to keep as simple as it was! GNH is getting complex with Economic models.
It is best to keep the concept simple. What does nine domains mean to common folks? I am thoroughly confused. 72 indicators? Lots of money has been pumped into research and survey but its impacts is not being felt at the grass roots.
I really dont know what will the impact of this conference but what I know is that people in europe and other developed countries are already working on post MDG agendas. I feel that proposal from bhutan with some experts from some specific NGOs and groups with self interest is unlikey to get through unless it is very pragmatic solution for the development.
To my understanding there are two types of happiness: conventional and ultimate happiness. While Conventional happiness includes all material wealth, aesthetic sense, and body comfort ability, ultimate happiness means spiritual well being or an attainment of mental peace and tranquility. Thus, in a way four pillars of GNH includes both types. I think what we have at the moment is sufficient for our people to comprehend some unless things get more complicated with some five or fifteen pages document composed by some 40 international and Bhutanese experts called as “new paradigm development “or “Paradigm shift”, whatever it is call.
In terms of conventional happiness, we can look through the lens of socioeconomic development, and we can always design and execute development activities to leverage such gap. But however, by nature, our wants and desires are limitless. Due to unlimited wants we are sure to take advantage of others by hook or crook to achieve what we desire for — then, where is happiness? For instance, just look at the residents of Thimphu today; they don’t know who is the next door neighbor –forget about helping and supporting each other in harmony. So, if such trend continues, how do we hope to attain happiness? Are we not inculcating greed amongst our people by making everyone busy? So, how do we eradicate greed, hatred, and jealousy with the pace of globalistion while people are getting busier? We need development to make our living comfortable and satisfying with what we have, and not to struggle for getting richer. Hence, so long we aren’t able to do away with human desire; achieving human happiness is at great stake. To be true to ourselves–ask ourselves, are we happy? Haven’t we caused pain to others in one way or other to get what we want? How do we define our own happiness? Volleys of questions pop up as we think of “Happiness”, so what paradigm are we going to set at.
Coming to ultimate happiness, it is basically related to spiritual wellbeing which is very profound. It mainly deals with an attainment of compassionate mind without desire, jealousy and ignorance. An individual who have attained such a mental level, indeed is “Happy”. Otherwise, we are happy just in one moment and unhappy in another moment. Our happiness is like mirage seen in desert. Now, all we need is to limit our aspiration and make ourselves happy. Hence, I would not discuss much on this as it more philosophical and abstract. But I would just stick to saying that we should be happy only if we know our limit and be happy with what we have (limit desire) and being good to others with hand, head, and heart.
Eventually, I agree to whatever perspective discussed by other authors, and I just wanted to share my viewpoints if there could of a bit of variety while the paradigm is on its way to pop up sooner or later.
I wish all the best of luck to 40 Expert for the development of paradigm that would reap the fruits of HAPPINESS in timeless time.
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