Article by HRH Princess Kezang Choden Wangchuck

GNH Today by HRH Princess Kezang Choden Wangchuck

President of the Board – GNH Centre Bhutan

His Majesty the fourth King first proclaimed four decades ago that, “Gross National Happiness is more important than “Gross National Product”. Since then, Bhutan has adopted a holistic approach to development within the GNH framework that comprises the four pillars and their nine domains of which I am certain you are already familiar. This has enabled us to balance modernity with tradition, material with spiritual, economic with social, and physical transformation with ecological conservation.

But this is not to say that we have discovered the remedy for all the ills and that Bhutan is clearly set on the path to happiness. I am aware that there are those who like to speak of our country as the land of happiness and presume that all our people are happy. We too wish these were true…But in reality, we are a developing country that has just become a low middle-income country. For too many -about 12% of our people – survival remains a struggle and happiness is only a dream. We have our share of misery and unhappiness.

What sets Bhutan apart is our devotion to the pursuit of happiness. What makes us different is that we are guided by the conviction that the purpose of development is to create conditions that will enable all citizens to find happiness.

Today, we as Bhutanese are firmly rooted in our hallowed values, and as small a nation as we are, we are a proud cultural entity with a strong sense of identity. It is true that we are well immersed in the globalized world and are fully exposed to its’ benefits and harms. But, I am pleased to state the integrity of our extended family network, communities and religious institutions manifest our resilience as a society that is able to reconcile material pursuits with those of spiritual growth. Our economy has grown and unemployment has decreased. Yet, our green cover has increased from 72% to over 80% with 50% of our entire territory having been declared as protected areas.

Bhutan has demonstrated that economic growth, agricultural expansion, urban development and industrial development need not come at the cost of ecological conservation. This has emboldened us to declare that we shall forever remain carbon neutral in an environment that is already made hazardous by an excess of green house gas emission.

Although the GNH model has indeed, served us well, with its nine domains and indexes, we do not claim that it is the best option. It has its limitations. We see it as a dynamic design that must be constantly enriched and improved with the help of people from all walks of life who bring with them immense experience and knowledge with a shared inspiration to create a better world. In this regard, we are most heartened by the interest the world has taken in our development approach.

The reasons for this interest are compelling. Financial systems are unraveling and economies falling apart; natural resources are depleting rapidly and ecosystems collapsing; climate change, water scarcity and disasters are every day realities; health, food and political crises hit us with growing intensity and our society is crumbling. Wars are a constant threat and the possibility of the use of nuclear and chemical weapons are becoming disconcertingly greater. It is an insecure, inequitable, unsustainable and unhappy world that we have created.  Our world needs to change and I am convinced that this can happen only when mankind mends its ways – when it alters, in a drastic way, the way it lives. Thankfully there are encouraging signs.

In July 2011, the United Nations passed a resolution titled “ Happiness: Towards a Holistic Approach to Development” stating that happiness is a fundamental human goal and universal aspiration. In April, the following year, 800 leaders and representatives from all walks of life joined the United Nations Secretary general and Nobel Laureates at a meeting organized by the Kingdom of Bhutan at the United Nations to consider the idea of a new development paradigm. Shortly thereafter, the UN proclaimed March 20th each year as the International Day of Happiness. It inspired UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to note that:

“The old model is broken. We need to create a new one… Clearly, we must unite around a shared vision for the future – a vision for equitable human development, a healthy planet, an enduring economic dynamism”.

These give us cause for hope. The 21st century could very well become the century of redemption. Your presence here takes me beyond hope. It convinces me that we will see within our lifetime, the realization of our hope for a better future. You convince us that the vision of a sustainable, equitable and happy world can be translated into reality – that there are good, caring people who will strive to do so.