Suzuki: Tiny Bhutan redefines ‘progress:’ Happiness is where it’s at

Bhutan’s government has taken the concept of GNH—gross national happiness—seriously

My parents lived through the Great Depression of the 1930s and were profoundly affected by it. They taught us to work hard to earn a living, live within our means, save for tomorrow, share and not be greedy and help our neighbours because one day we might need their help. Those homilies and teachings seem quaint in today’s world of credit cards, hyper-consumption and massive debt.

We can’t even imagine a way of living beyond being endlessly occupied with making money to get more stuff to make our lives “easier”.

But some people have had the benefit of directly comparing a simpler way with the accelerated societies we’ve created. In the mid-20th century, the tiny Kingdom of Bhutan, hidden deep in the Himalayas between China and India, emerged from three hundred years of isolation. In 1961, the third king of Bhutan started sending students to schools in India. From there, some went on to Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and other universities. The first of their nation to encounter Western society after three centuries of separation, those young people clearly saw the contrast in values. Upon returning to Bhutan, they expressed shock that, in the West, “development” and “progress” were measured in terms of money and material possessions.

At a 1972 international conference in India, a reporter asked Bhutan’s king about his country’s gross national product—a measure of economic activity. His response was semi-facetious: He said Bhutan’s priority was not the GNP but GNH—gross national happiness.

Bhutan’s government has since taken the concept of GNH seriously and galvanized thinking around the world with the notion that the economy should serve people, not the other way around.

In July 2011, Bhutan introduced the only resolution it has ever presented at the United Nations. Resolution 65/309 was called “Happiness: towards a holistic approach to development.” The country’s position was “that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal” and “that the gross domestic product…does not adequately reflect the happiness and well-being of people.”

The General Assembly passed the resolution unanimously. It was “intended as a landmark step towards adoption of a new global sustainability-based economic paradigm for human happiness and well-being of all life forms to replace the current dysfunctional system that is based on the unsustainable premise of limitless growth on a finite planet.”

That empowered Bhutan to convene a high-level meeting. I was delighted when its leaders asked me to serve on a working group charged with defining happiness and well-being, and developing ways to measure these states and strategies. Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley even cited the David Suzuki Foundation’s “Declaration of Interdependence” as an inspiration for the proposal.

The Bhutanese understand that well-being and happiness depend on a healthy environment. They vow to protect 60 per cent of their forest cover, are already carbon-neutral and have vowed to make their entire agriculture sector organic. They have snow leopards, elephants, rhinos, tigers and valleys of tree-sized rhododendrons—and know their happiness depends on protecting them.

 

 

Dr. David Suzuki is a scientist and broadcaster.

 

www.davidsuzuki.org.

 

 

Just Posted

Okanagan Wildfires: An afternoon update on wildfires and evacuations

A Sunday afternoon look at the major wildfires impacting the Okanagan and Similkameen.

VIDEO: Sailing under the sun at the BC Games

Maple Bay in the Cowichan Valley was host to dozens of athletes sailing on small prams to planing dinghys

BC Wildfire holding steady on Okanagan Complex

Evening update on Okanagan fire situation

Wild fires blaze in the Okanagan, in your words

We have compiled a community photo album of your wildfire photos

Power couple speed into top spot at L’Alpe de Grand Blanc at Big White

The professional riders have been training all year

BC Games: Day 3 wrap and closing ceremonies

The torch in the Cowichan Valley has been extinguished as Fort St. John gets ready to host the 2020 BC Winter Games

Police confirm girl, 8 others injured in Toronto shooting; shooter dead

Paramedics said many of the victims in Danforth, including a child, were rushed to trauma centres

Why do they do it? Coaches guide kids to wins, personal bests at the BC Games

Behind the 2,300 B.C. athletes are the 450 coaches who dedicate time to help train, compete

Reel Reviews: Floundering inferno

We quote Charlie Brown: “Good grief!”

UPDATE: Five taken to hospital following one of two Coquihalla accidents

One airlifted in critical condition, four taken via ambulance in stable condition

Ottawa fails to find alternative buyer for Trans Mountain pipeline by deadline

The feds had announced it was purchasing the $4.5 billion pipeline earlier this spring

Government sets full-time salary range for Justin Trudeau’s nanny

At its top range, the order works out to a rate of $21.79 per hour, assuming a 40-hour work week

Lower Mainland teams battle for baseball gold at BC Games

Vancouver Coastal squeaked out a 3-2 win against Fraser Valley

The Northern Secwepemc te Qelmucw people signed an agreement-in-principle with the B.C. government

The signing ceremony, at the Eliza Archie Memorial School, was 25 years in the making

Most Read