Happiness has become synonymous to Bhutan, at least to the world outside. At home, the concept is both subjective and debatable even if we may not deny happiness being identified with the country. Happiness is conveniently linked with everything that happens in the country and at one’s convenience; it is both ridiculed and praised.
Such conversations add to the on-going discourse on what Bhutan must do to create an environment that is conducive for its people to pursue happiness. And it is in this discourse that findings of the world happiness report 2017 find a place. Bhutan ranked 97 this year, dropping 13 places from last year’s 84th position. It ranked 79 in 2015. Since its first report in 2012, the world happiness reports have discussed Bhutan and its development philosophy of Gross National Happiness. The Centre for Bhutan Studies was involved in the past.
In this global process of measuring happiness, rejecting the ranking and questioning the credibility of these reports becomes problematic. But like happiness, there is something about international reports on Bhutan that is either rejected or accepted whenever we find it convenient. The government tells us that the happiness report could not be trusted because there is no evidence of survey being conducted in the country. But the same government was surprised when journalists questioned the improved press freedom ranking released a week ago. How do we then understand the government’s quest to make Bhutan rank among the top 100 in doing business? Who are we making Bhutan good for doing business when policies are choking small and medium hoteliers at home from doing business?
Such selective stands of the government are at best confusing. Seeking gratification from reports that rank Bhutan better and criticising those that do not, help little in addressing problems that affect our people. We must go beyond the rankings, learn, unlearn, and understand such perspectives and take action.
According to the happiness report, Bhutan tops the happiness equality index, but the GNH survey 2015 found our farmers, the elderly and women to be among the unhappy nine percent. If we believe in the national surveys and findings, we should see actions being taken. Our farmers are giving up farming and irrigation cannels are running dry. We have the data on the issue of controlled substances but we are yet to see access being tightened.
These are the issues that confront our people. The rankings will be taken care when we address the concerns of the people.