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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Gross National Happiness

It is nice to see Bhutan's initiative to advise the world, at the United Nations (see article below).  No one at UN was likely expecting any inputs from this tiny mountain kingdom. To propose a seemingly radical new goal to the hugely more powerful colleague nations, and to scoff at their current pursuits, takes courage, a certain depth of compassion and conviction. I appreciate this initiative.

In India, philosophically the goal has always been "sarve janah sukhino bhavanthu" (let everyone be happy and comfortable). I would think it is similar in other cultures and countries as well. The world's gap with Bhutan is not at a philosophical level; it is at intellectual and  implementation levels.

If Bhutan really wants the world to take its advise seriously and benefit from it, they should invest time and money to do some homework. They should put their advice in a language that the world can take seriously. They should form an international expert panel, and delegate to it the tasks of scientifically defining Gross National Happiness and connecting it to macro-economic indicators that the world-at-large can understand. If Bhutan can do this, the world can ever be grateful to this tiny nation.   

Bhutan proposes a new global goal
UNITED NATIONS — The introvert Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan on Monday urged the world to adopt a new Millennium Development Goal -- happiness -- if it really wants to end the scourge of poverty, hunger and disease.
Bhutan's Prime Minister, Jigmi Thinley, condemned the "dangerous and stupid" pursuit of wealth, even by some of his big and brash neighbours India and China, in a speech to the UN summit on reaching the MDGs.
The land of the Gross National Happiness index again sought to export its optimistic ideology, which the prime minister said encompassed all of the eight major goals set by the United Nations in 2000.
Aims which Thinley said Bhutan is on target to reach, while the rest of the world struggles.
Thinley said that as the eight existing goals are likely to remain after the target date of 2015 "my delegation would like to propose to this highest forum in the world that we include happiness as the ninth MDG."
"It is a goal that stands as a separate value while representing as well, the sum total outcome of the other eight. Its relevance goes beyond the poor and developing member states to bind all of humanity, rich and poor, to a timeless common vision."

Bhutan's Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley addresses the Millennium Development Goals Summit
Gross National Happiness was conceived by the father of Buddhist Bhutan's young monarch -- Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck -- and is firmly established as official government policy. Seeking a more holistic indicator of development that transcends the "materialism" of Gross Domestic Product, Gross National Happiness measures four criteria -- sustainable development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the environment, and good governance. It does not ignore economic growth, however. Bhutan, which has been slowly emerging from hundreds of years of isolation -- only allowing television in 1999 -- has clocked an annual average of about eight percent growth for the past few years.
Bhutan says it concentrates on the type of growth that is important. It has policies that provide free education and health care, a clean mountain environment and making sure the country's religious and cultural traditions remain intact.
"It does not demand much imagination intelligence," the prime minster told the summit, "to understand that endless pursuit of material growth in a world with limited natural resources within a delicately balanced ecology is just not sustainable -- that it is dangerous and stupid.
"One cannot imagine, even as China and India aspire to compete in consumption with the USA, what would become of Earth if every global citizen acquired the same voracious capacity."
According to the prime minister, "the evidence of the limited ability of nature to tolerate abuse is there for us to suffer in the rising frequency and fury of multiple calamities." He mentioned the Pakistan flood disaster as well as the huge oil slick which has hit the Gulf of Mexico this year.
Thinley said the global financial crisis was a reminder that much of the world's wealth is "illusory" and can quickly "disappear without a trace."
He said the current economic crisis could get worse and predicted "more, we can be certain, will strike to persuade us of the need to change our way of life."
The prime minister left the podium with a smile and to a strong if bemused ovation from world leaders.

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