Happiness from a Bhutanese perspective
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Happiness from a Bhutanese perspective

It’s not for everybody, but still… writes John Berthelsen for Asia Sentinel.

It is not clear just when Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the fourth King of Bhutan, came up with the idea of substituting a Gross National Happiness Index instead of the more common gross domestic product to measure social, economic and political changes in his isolated Himalayan Shangri-la.

But substitute he did. The index was inaugurated and launched by the country by the Prime Minister on Nov. 24, 2008 when he passed his crown – and a newly-fledged democratic nation – to his Oxford-educated son, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, in 2008. The elder Wangchuck had been working on the concept for decades.


Former Bhutanese Khing Jigme Singye Wangchuk. Pic: Asia Sentinel.

And, while it might sound like something that sprang from the hippies of San Francisco during the Summer of Love, Bhutan takes it very seriously. And perhaps so should Gen. Than Shwe and the Burmese government, for instance, or perhaps Kim Jong-un, the incoming Young General who will take over North Korea from his despotic dad.

And, of course, there is the small matter of the 100,000-odd ethnic Nepalese that the King Jigme Singye kicked out of Bhutan and who lived for several decades in seven UN refugee camps in southeastern Nepal until the United States offered to take 60,000 of them and five other nations each took 10,000 for resettlement. They appear to be looking Gross National Happiness in nations far from Bhutan.

Nonetheless, in 2008 the kingdom established an entire new institutional structure, with GNH committees at the ministerial, district and block levels to help shape the nature of Bhutan’s political economy, legal foundation, health and education systems.