“Until Philosophers are kings…cities will never have rest from their troubles.” -Plato
The phrase, Gross National Happiness, was coined in 1972 by Bhutan’s Buddhist King Jigme Singye Wangchuck. When asked about his country’s economy, he responded “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product.” An off-hand remark at the time has turned into a burgeoning science and the unified effort of the entire Nation of Bhutan. Perhaps with King Jingme, Bhutan came closer to fulfilling Plato’s ideal governance by a ‘philosopher king’ than any kingdom outside a fairy tale.
Since making that statement, longevity in Bhutan has increased an average of twenty years per person and the literacy rate has risen from nine percent to fifty percent. Bhutan has become a democracy. Health care is provided by the government free of charge and patients have the choice of Western or native Bhutanese medicine. Bhutan is the most environmentally conscious and also the most sustainable nation on Earth. (Plastic bags and two stroke engines were banned in 1999, for example.)
Bhutan is a parliamentary democracy. The state religion is Vajrayana or Tantric Buddhism. Due to the strong reverence for life, fishing and hunting are forbidden throughout the country. Currently, an unprecedented constitution is being drafted which would give inalienable rights to wildlife and trees as well as people! Bhutan has more original forest cover than any nation in the world. Seeing what Buddhist governance has achieved in Bhutan, one can only wonder what the Dalai Lama might have realized in Tibet, had he not spent the last fifty years in exile.
Interestingly, marijuana grows wild and is more common than grass in Bhutan. It is literally everywhere, but no one smokes it. They feed it to the hogs. Apparently pigs do fly in Bhutan!
Bhutan ranked as the happiest country in Asia and the eighth-happiest country in the world according to the 2006 global survey, the World Map of Happiness. (The United States came in 23rd.) GNH is the guiding philosophy that acts as Bhutan’s national conscience. It upholds the well being of the people. It works for the happiness of every Bhutanese at all times through the four pillars of sustainability, cultural integrity, conservation, and good governance. Although GNH reflects its Buddhist origins, its science is solidly based upon the empirical research literature of happiness, positive psychology and well-being.
In sharp contrast, Robert Kennedy wrote about Gross National Product:
“Our gross national product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors, and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwoods, and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm, nuclear warheads, and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”
- Genuine happiness is more important than any economic index!