After opening its border for the first time around 50 years ago, Bhutan has captivated the mind and souls of tourists and has since become a popular destination. This landlocked country is a haven of peace with picturesque mountains, lush greenery, ancient monasteries and colourful traditional flags that can be found along its length and breadth. Now the question arises what makes this small country standout from the rest of the world?
In the 1970s, Bhutan sought a new way to measure the prosperity and development of the country by using a unique tool called the ‘Gross National Happiness’ which takes into account its residents’ mental, emotional, physical, societal, and ecological well-being, as well as the surrounding ecosystem. Ever since then they have used this Index rather than the universally accepted GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and have set a benchmark.
Primarily being a Buddhist nation that fundamentally values inner happiness above all forms of external interests might be the reason behind their holistic approach towards development. Buddhist values and teachings are seamlessly integrated into the philosophy behind the Index and in one of the UN Climate change conferences, Bhutan warned the world of the large impact of global warming and its hazardous outcome.
They have adopted the four pillars that guide the GNH namely
1. Good Governance: This kingdom was led by a succession of Kings and now the current King has placed the governance of the country in the hands of a democratically elected parliament in order to promote fair and equal opportunities for all the citizens.
2. Conservation and Promotion of Culture: Bhutan greatly values its principles of diversity and inclusiveness when it comes to embracing the varied cultures prevalent in the country. Their culture is also one of the deciding factors for the adoption of this tool since they have valued happiness above all.
3. Environmental Protection: Bhutan proudly wears the title of being the only carbon neutral country in the world with over 72% of its area covered in forests. They are extremely conscious to make policies that do not hurt the environment and practice a mutual development of infrastructure and industries taking into mind their natural impact.
4. Sustainable Socio-economic Development: They value the social and economic well-being of all households. Each individual’s education, health, leisure activity, and economic independence make up the contributing factor in the calculation of Happiness. Now before the implementation of any policy first its impact is evaluated in a ‘Stress Test’.
It can be noted that Bhutan’s policies have paved the way to substantial growth including doubled life expectancy, better infrastructure and primary school enrolment of 100 per cent of its children. Also, this monumental shift can be taken as an example by developing countries that majorly focus on economic growth leaving behind a plateau of other issues.
The government has launched many measures including banning export logging, a strict tourist policy that should be in sync with their sustainable environmental impact and also a day in the month where private vehicles are banned from the roads to promote eco-friendly methods of travelling. Children in school are oriented with basic agriculture and ways to protect the environment along with regular subjects. They are also taught the practice of meditation and regular exercising sessions.
Though Bhutan has its own share of problems with being amongst the poorest nations and is seen struggling to make the living standards and daily income of its citizens better. Still, the country relies on this index since it is futuristic and signifies the long-standing commitment to making holistic changes. Though the scenario is slower in the process its impact will have a ripple effect for the generations to come.