Orwell Award Announcement SusanOhanian.Org Home

Gross National Happiness

Susan Notes: Readers of this site know I've long advocated a Happiness Index for schools. After all, if McDonald's can ask Are cows ever happy? can we do less for 7th graders?

Take a look at Franklin Delano Roosevelt's inaugural address of January 11, 1944, where he asked Congress to adopt a "second Bill of Rights": guarantees of work, adequate housing and income, medical care and education. How can the stirring words of the Declaration of Independence--"Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Happiness"--be realized without a living wage?

by Richard Ingham

In 1972, the king of Bhutan declared that his Himalayan country (which is the size of Switzerland) would henceforth measure progress with gross national happiness instead of gross national product. It is still the only country in the world to do so.

This is an entirely appropriate decision for a country that treats happiness, not economic gain, as the goal of development. In inventing their government, Bhutan's leaders asked themselves how to maintain balance between materialism and spiritualism while seeking the clear benefits of science and technology; the possible loss of tranquility and happiness with the advance of uncontrolled modernism was an abiding concern.

This concern for balance is illustrated by a story told by former Prime Minister Jigmi Y. Thinley. In the late 1980s, a prominent farmer planted high-yield rice with the encouragement of the government. He had a bumper harvest with surplus grain. The government thought it had a success story to motivate the rest of the farmers. Instead, the farmer refused to grow any rice the next year because the bumper harvest had left him enough to live on for another year, during which he could live leisurely and spiritually.

In 1998, the government's master plan was developed, named the four pillars of happiness. Then-Prime Minister Thinley said these pillars - sustainable economic development, conservation of the environment, promotion of national culture, and good governance - create conditions "in which every individual will be able to pursue happiness with reasonable success."

The plan is working, and Bhutan's success with the environmental pillar alone is remarkable. A few years ago, the residents of a village famous for its migratory cranes proudly installed electricity in their village. It was soon discovered, however, that some cranes were flying into the power lines. The villagers tore them down and switched to solar power.

Although all four pillars would find their advocates in America, it is unlikely the pillars could be incorporated whole cloth into our notion of public good. One of the reasons the pillars and gross national happiness work in Bhutan is the country's distinct philosophy and social cohesion; no such singular vision and cohesion exist in America.

But what might work here is a greater emphasis on good governance. We could start our movement with Americans who believe that constant, brutal attack ads during a political season are not part of good governance. I also believe it would not be a great leap for many citizens to expand the definition of liberty to recognize that individual liberty cannot exist without economic security. There has been interest of late (see Cass Sunstein's The Second Bill of Rights) in revisiting Franklin Roosevelt's 1944 State of the Union Address, in which Roosevelt proposed a second bill of rights (not amendments, but national goals) to give tools to citizens "to assure...equality in the pursuit of happiness." These would include a job, adequate medical care, and a good education.

If there were greater emphasis in America on life satisfaction as a matter of public policy, which groups of voters would benefit? One answer could be anyone who would gain from government programs that help with the work of care-taking while holding a job - such programs as childcare, adult day care and universal health care. In fact, wouldn't all workers benefit from a broadening of the definition of the bottom line? A happier, healthier workforce might even increase America's gross national product.

Richard Ingham is a state legal services developer in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Here's an entry from CIA World Factbook on Bhutan . Do you think maybe they're missing something?

The economy, one of the world's smallest and least developed, is based on agriculture and forestry, which provide the main livelihood for more than 90% of the population. Agriculture consists largely of subsistence farming and animal husbandry. Rugged mountains dominate the terrain and make the building of roads and other infrastructure difficult and expensive. The economy is closely aligned with India's through strong trade and monetary links and dependence on India's financial assistance. The industrial sector is technologically backward, with most production of the cottage industry type. Most development projects, such as road construction, rely on Indian migrant labor. Bhutan's hydropower potential and its attraction for tourists are key resources. Model education, social, and environment programs are underway with support from multilateral development organizations. Each economic program takes into account the government's desire to protect the country's environment and cultural traditions. For example, the government, in its cautious expansion of the tourist sector, encourages visits by upscale, environmentally conscientious tourists. Detailed controls and uncertain policies in areas like industrial licensing, trade, labor, and finance continue to hamper foreign investment.

— Richard Ingham
Sojo Mail


This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of education issues vital to a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information click here. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.