- Bhutan: one of the happiest countries
Bhutan: one of the happiest countries in the world; happiest in the subcontinent
Bhutan, a tiny nation in the Himalayas with a population of about 700,000 , is the only country that measures its progress by the level of happiness among its citizens. The term gross national happiness (GNH) was coined by Bhutan's King Jigme Singye Wangchuck in 1972. In 2008, Jigmi Y Thinley, the prime minister, launched a GNH index to guide public policy.
Seated on his office sofa in a knee-length robe, the national dress for Bhutanese men, Thinley told me that conventional development paradigms were "unsustainable, purely materialistic and very narrow". He explained: "In the end, the development must be about furthering human civilisation … to increase and improve the level of human wellbeing and happiness. We are talking of happiness not of a sensory kind. The human being has material as well as emotional, psychological and spiritual needs."
According to the official website of GNH, GDP-based indicators promote rapid material progress at the expense of "environmental preservation, cultures, and community cohesion", the key objectives of GNH. These seem to me extremely conservative values. They brought to mind the essence of David Cameron's speech in Munich against multiculturalism.
The website goes on to explain the GNH index with a splatter of religious terms throughout. Spiritual activities like meditation and prayers and "consideration of karmic effects" in one's life are among the indicators of happiness. It calls for training of mental faculties towards happiness. "From a contemplative perspective, extreme reliance on externally derived pleasure distracts the individual from inner sources of happiness, elevating the latter," the website quotes Dasho Karma Ura, the Bhutanese scholar who helped develop the index, as saying.
Bhutan's law reflects GNH values. At least 60% of the country's land must remain under forest cover at all times. Bhutan imposes the tariff of $200 a day for each foreign visitor to control the tourist inflow and thereby protect the environment and culture. Sale of tobacco products is banned. All Bhutanese are required to wear the national dress, and all buildings must conform to the national architecture to preserve the country's distinctive culture. Astonishingly, there is little resistance from the citizens."
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