Gross National Happiness

gnhAs the World Looks to Bhutan…
The world-embracing vision of a young king

The deepest yearning of every human being!

It’s name is Gyalyong Gakid Pelzom…

The most precious object in the world is life. And the most cherished goal of life is happiness. The means may differ, but the end is one. All human striving is directed at realising this goal. Time and place and personal circumstances are immaterial to this native yearning of the human heart.

This is why the 20th of March is special and significant in more ways than one. It brings the natural, the cosmic, and the human realms together. This day ushers in the queen of all seasons heralding the advent of Spring and the beginning of new life. Today marks the Spring Equinox when day and night are supposed to be of equal duration. What is more? March 20th is the International Day of Happiness.

Resolution A/RES/66/281 carried a special message for the world when on June 28, 2012 the, United Nations General Assembly sanctified the most sublime desire of mankind and declared March 20th as the International Day of Happiness,  affirming that ‘the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal’.

The General Assembly decision was the fruit of much hard-work prompted by a fervent desire for a better world. On July 19, 2011, Bhutan submitted a proposal, co-sponsored by 68 other member-states, vide Resolution 65/309, on the theme “Happiness: Towards a Holistic Approach to Development”. It was passed unanimously by all the 193 member-states of the United Nations without a dissenting voice. Pursuit of happiness thus became a subject as well as an object of development on a global scale.

It was a historic moment for a tiny kingdom and indeed for the United Nations as the deepest desire of the human race found utterance in the collective voice of the world’s biggest family of nations. It was in a true sense the ultimate vindication of the vision of a young king that shone forth to embrace the whole of humanity. It was the world returning to its inner self and listening to an earnest voice calling for a change of heart.

The level and extent of global interest in Gross National Happiness in the wake of the General Assembly resolution and the Bhutan-sponsored High Level Meeting at the UN Headquarters in New York on April 2, 2012 have been truly astounding and inspiring as well as deeply humbling. Some of the finest minds in the world today are engaged in exploring and understanding the scope and sweep of this revolutionary ideal of human well-being and societal progress.

‘Gross National Happiness’ is one of the most beautiful and inclusive expressions in the corpus of the 21st century sustainable development discourse. Today, GNH is more than a confluence of three loaded terms that define the vision of one country. It carries a meaning that is universal in scope and compelling in relevance.

Psychologist and educator, Dr Susan Andrews, situates GNH aptly: “Today, there is an increasing need for an integrated solution to problems and GNH provides a systematic approach. In a world drenched with materialism, the human heart yearns for something beyond material possessions, and that is one of the reasons that GNH is attracting so many people“.

As we celebrate the International Day of Happiness today, it is in effect the global community pausing a while to ponder over what truly is the purpose of life. It is a moment when the world casts its mental eye towards Bhutan and pays its tribute to a vision larger than life, a message far bigger than its size.

When the youngest king in the world then, Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuck, still in his teens, proclaimed that “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product”, some four decades ago, he had already seen through the mirage of the conventional notions of progress based largely on the narrow, consumption-based, utilitarian yardstick of economic efficiency, otherwise called GDP.

What our world is going through today in terms of global warming, climate change, natural disasters, resource depletion, growing inequities, deepening poverty, life-threatening pollution, break-down of social fabric, cultural erosion and spiritual deprivation, among other ills, represents a consumerist pattern of life with a tragic consequences on the quality of human life and the health of our planet.

Yet the rat race continues with the childish grandiosity that the more one exploits and accumulates, the happier one becomes. This ‘having more’ orientation is the culprit in the depletion of our earth’s resources and the creation of an unsustainable way of life for humans as well as other beings who share the earth with us.

News from environmentalist Paul Hawken is not comforting either: “At present, we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it gross domestic product. We can just as easily have an economy that is based on healing the future instead of stealing it”.

This state of our world is cause for deep anxiety and despair. Something is not right. After all these centuries of progress, we ought to be living in a more beautiful world!

There is good news: we all want to be happy! There is an acknowledgment of the challenges that we face and so many men and women of goodwill devote their entire life and energy to make our world a better place. For all its imperfections, it is still a good world! And, with all its aches and hurts, life is still beautiful. Happiness is a goal that is every bit worth-pursuing!

The positive implications of happiness on the individual as on social level are clear. According to Arthur C Brooks: “… Happy people treat others better than unhappy people do. They are more charitable than unhappy people, have better marriages, are better parents, act with greater integrity, and are better citizens. Happy people not only work harder than unhappy people, but volunteer more too – meaning they increase our nation’s prosperity and strengthen our communities”.

Pursuit of happiness has a compelling ethical dimension too. To quote Brooks, “…the pursuit of happiness is a deeply moral obligation, on both the personal and the national level. … we have the right to pursue happiness. But we also have an ethical responsibility to exercise that right, and to guide our values, policies, and politics as a nation in a way that makes it possible for our fellow-citizens and those around the world to pursue happiness as well”.

Germane to the idea of Gross National Happiness is mindfulness, moderation, and responsibility. We return to the eternal law of lay judrey – action and consequence. For every action that humans undertake, there is a consequence for better or worse, depending on the motive that drives action.

Gross National Happiness, or happiness, is essentially about relationships, about interdependence. It is a function of damtsig – loyalty, integrity – that defines all our vital links – between us human beings and the natural world, between us and the cosmos, between citizens and state, between sovereign and citizens, individuals and institutions, friends and neighbours, parents and children, colleagues and co-workers, us and everything around us and beyond us that defines our life.

There is no magic here! GNH has to do with the way each one of us lives our life and the values on which our life rests. What can we do in our own little sphere to create and promote happiness – in our families, school, office, business, and the society beyond? How do we honour the earth on which we stand, the air that we breathe and the water that we drink so that they sustain us?

As we are, so is our family, our organisation, our society, and indeed our nation. Gross National Happiness is a function of personal decisions and individual actions as surely as little drops of water make the mighty ocean. Gross National Happiness is more than an antidote to Gross National Product. It is an anodyne that can heal the wounds of our ailing planet and “still the tooth that nibbles at the soul”.

On the International Happiness Day, the world looks at Bhutan and the Bhutanese. It is a big honour but a bigger obligation. This moment calls us to look into ourselves and measure up.

May the vision of our wise Kings be our guide and the sun of peace and happiness shine on all us and the people of the world today and always!

 Thakur S Powdyel, former Minister of Education


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