Gross National Happiness: A holistic paradigm for sustainable development

Published on Dec 23 2011 // Commentary
By Jigmi Y Thinley

Hon. Vice President of India; Hon. Prime Minister of India; Hon. Speaker of the Lok Sabha; Hon’ble Ministers; Hon. Members of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha; Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen;

It is with immense humility that I have accepted the kind invitation of the Honourable Speaker of the Parliament of this great nation to deliver the 4th Professor Hiren Mukerjee Memorial Lecture here before this august assembly.

That the invitation should come from the Hon. Shrimati Meera Kumar, who has achieved the rare feat of becoming the first lady speaker of the world’s largest democracy is an exceptional honour. We in Bhutan, who closely observe the Indian democracy at work, admire the wisdom and beatific serenity with which the Hon. Speaker has been steering the often stormy deliberations in the Lok Sabah. I am also mindful of the presence of yet another great lady, Shrimati Sushama Swaraj, who has the singular distinction of leading democracy’s indispensable alternate voice in the Lok Sabha. Then again, it was from this House that a daughter of India arose to become one of the most illustrious Prime ministers in the world. That India should produce such women who elevate democracy is exemplary and inspirational in a world where women make up 40 percent of the global workforce but own only one percent of the world’s wealth with not enough role in shaping even their own lives.

Speaking as I do after three extraordinary minds since the inception of this memorial lecture, it is not without trepidation that I stand before you. But it is my realization of the honour you bestow on my country and the value you attach to the unique friendship between our countries that give me the courage to present my humble thoughts on a subject that is gaining world acceptance and merits your wise counsel and consideration. In so doing, I am fully aware that it would be too presumptuous on my part to even imagine that I have new knowledge or information to present to such a learned audience. My attempt shall be to present a set of humble views based on our national experiences in pursuing Gross National Happiness.

1. Tribute to Professor Hiren Mukerjee
Professor Hiren Mukerjee was a passionate politician of the kind who ennobled politics in a world, where we as politicians suffer from an unshakeable irony. We come to positions of leadership through an expression of trust at the time of elections. Yet, we are often the object of suspicion and scorn by the very same voters from the moment we assume our role. Too few among us carry the trust of the people we represent and, as a consequence, lack the conviction to do more.

Even upon having begun with the highest of ideals, we are disillusioned and discouraged by obstacles to our well-reasoned endeavours and ideas for change. Sadder yet is to find ourselves yielding to the common dye that moulds too many others. But Hiren Mukerjee was a man of conviction in his noble mission for the poor and voiceless. He refused to be cast by any mould or to be disillusioned and defeated. In both his oratory and prolific writing, the brilliant parliamentarian was unrelenting in his dogged pursuit of the highest ideals for his country and people. He spoke of politics as a suffering (passion) from which he sought no escape. Too many of our kind in the world mistake elected office as escape from suffering, seeing it instead, as positions of power and privilege and bear the guilt of denigrating the sacred words – politics and politicians. Professor Hiren was a giant in his lifetime and his spirit lives on to guide us in the furtherance of good politics and happiness among those that we serve.

2. Bhutan-India Friendship
Hon Vice President, allow me to present the greetings of my King who only recently chose India to be the first country to visit after the royal wedding just as he did after His coronation in 2008. I bring to you also the good wishes of my fellow citizens whose gratitude and appreciation for the people of India will always be immeasurable. This is palpable in our affection for and pride in the people of India for the amazing achievements you continue to make ever since my esteemed friend, HE Prime Minister Manmohan Singh introduced transformational policy and strategic changes while serving as the Finance Minister of India. From an economically poor country that was in danger of defaulting on its debts, the economy of India is today the ninth largest by nominal GDP and the fourth largest by purchasing power parity (PPP). I share with you the joy of the Bhutanese people as India and Indians take giant strides in science and technology, trade and industry, socio economic development and international relations. Further buttressed by its unrivalled cultural wealth, India is now in her rightful place as a world leader.

With generous and unfailing assistance from India, Bhutan too has been making notable advancement in all fields of development. Today, we have reached a stage when we can reasonably declare poverty eradication not just as a long term aspiration but as a realizable immediate objective. Putting every Rupee of Indian tax payers’ money to its intended purpose, I believe we have given successive governments of India reasons for satisfaction in the outcome of their well intended development assistance to their neighbour. In return, you have in my country a trusted ally and friend, with a growing capacity to contribute to mutually enriching and beneficial cooperation. In the process, we are together setting an enviable example of peaceful coexistence and cooperation between neighbours against the odds of various asymmetries and incongruities.

True friendship among nations is never conditioned by time and changing interests. Contrary to conventional thinking, it is selfless, enduring and transcends motives. It is founded on trust. Friendship raises national confidence and self esteem and it is uplifting. These are what Bhutanese see in our very special relations and that is why the Bhutanese will always have faith in our fraternity. Bhutan, I know, will always remain guided by her belief in a shared future of prosperity with India, to be realized through a common path paved with understanding, good will and mutual respect.

3. Leadership Role of India in the SAARC and the world
As I take joy in extolling the virtues of our exemplary relations, I am convinced that these bear testimony to India’s sincere quest for greater understanding and partnership with other neighbours as well. Surely, as our mutual gains become visible, the historical, psychological and emotional barriers behind the trust deficit in our sub-region will be overcome. I am confident, that the countries in our region will become more empathetic towards each other and more understanding of the inhibiting circumstances that have prevented greater regional cooperation. We must overcome the prejudices that influence us to read the worst of intentions in unfortunate incidents and find the wisdom for peaceful solutions to the wrongs that we may have suffered.

To this end, I pray that the honourable parliamentarians of our region will strengthen the resolve of our governments to find wise and durable solutions even to the most violent provocations and injuries. I appeal to our able, loyal and highly capable bureaucrats who are in the frontline of diplomacy to breach the walls of doubt and suspicion that prevent them from doing what is not traditional- from defying the logics of sacred precedents. And to the media, I urge restraint and search for truths beyond what may excite the mind and stimulate the flow of adrenaline in our sentimental and admirably, patriotic citizens.

We must, together, contribute positively to the making of a harmonious and cooperative SAARC. We will together, with our people, find the muse, the poetry and the melody to inspire ourselves. All of our nations stand to benefit not only economically from growing trade in goods and services and investment flows but from the peace and stability each of us needs to attend to the challenges of delivering what our voters and constituencies need. To this end, India must show the way. She must lead not only the region but the world.

As the largest democracy and as a powerful and rapidly expanding economy representing 17% of humanity, it is the destiny and, I dare say, obligation of India to be among those who, in a real sense, set the global agenda and have a profound role in shaping the destiny of mankind. That agenda is already becoming increasingly complex and challenging as never before. Issues of human security and survival will become an everyday subject, testing society’s conscience, capacity and resolve in ways that demand immediate and acceptable solutions. With no representation for more than one-seventh of the world’s population, I cannot see how such an awesome responsibility can be discharged by any group or body with legitimacy and competence.

In our globalized world, every national aspiration and its realization is conditioned more and more by what happens globally. Local initiatives and accomplishments will mean and matter less if not supported and facilitated by the global environment. It is for these reasons that Bhutan, like so many other countries, believes in the indisputable right of India to be permanently seated in an enlarged UN Security Council. It is, likewise, for the same reasons that we welcome India’s active participation in G-20, BRICS and ASEAN consultations. These are the reasons why India must assume the burden of taking the centre stage in global decision making processes and fora with clarity of vision.

4. Flaws in the World economic system
And the world is in dire need of visionary and purposeful leadership. It is a deeply troubled world that we live in today. Without clarity of vision and strength of purpose to alter the course of our perilous journey on which we are embarked, not only the sustainability of what human society has achieved but the very survival of life on earth is at risk. How did this come about?

The 20th century was a remarkable era that tested man and society’s endurance and genius. And the human spirit has endured and prevailed. Since the latter half of the century in particular, it brought about amazing transformation through unprecedented advancements in science, technology, the arts, and every other sphere of life. We have fathomed the depths of the dark ocean, unlocked the secrets of the vast universe and we even dare to rival the gods in the creation of life itself. We have conquered time and space. Medical wonders never cease and the market is stocked with boundless means to material comfort. Art and architecture, music and literature are flourishing within new dimensions to ascend new peaks. Access to information is instantaneous and knowledge abounds.

But are we any wiser? Have we acted responsibly? Have we employed the miracles of science and technology to make our future safe and predictably better? Have our great strides in arts, literature and architecture refined our mind, furthered true civilization and are we more secure as individuals and as a race? Have we found just and equitable ways to share earth’s scarce resources and is the wealth we are creating of real value? Does it last and give contentment? Are we creating a future of hope and confidence? Are we healthier of body and mind? Are we happier?

From the pains of the devastation of Europe and East Asia in the First World War, the Great Depression and the dust bowl of the United States in the 1930s and the ashes of the Second WW arose the aspiration for peace, stability and economic progress. This led to the agreement among the industrialized countries in the final stages of the WWII to establish the Bretton Woods institutions as the core of the new economic system to promote recovery and growth through investment, free trade and convertibility of currencies for payments.

The yard stick adopted by these institutions to monitor progress was GDP, an indicator developed by Nobel laureate Simon Kuznets for the US Department of Commerce. Intended to measure the market value of all goods and services produced within a country in a given period, it was never meant for anything more. However, fearing its misuse, Kuznets warned the US Congress that “the welfare of a nation can scarcely be inferred from a measure of national income.”

But somewhere, along the way, we lost our nobler sense and let our greed take over to engender an obsession for creation of wealth at any cost. Economists or powers behind market forces and their flawed theories fuelled this obsession. This obsession was given a shade of ethical rationale with the misuse of the GDP indicator. Professor Kuznets watched helplessly as his limited metric was assigned far broader role with GDP per capita being employed as a measure of a country’s standard of living and, by extension, the well being of its people. The Bretton Woods Institutions convinced a blindly willing world that aggregate wealth creation, making the rich richer, will benefit everyone.

The use of this indicator as the singular driver of development resulted in our pursuit of limitless growth in a finite world being measured, especially among so called developed and emerging economies, on a quarterly basis. It failed to take into account those aspects of development or changes that matter equally or more to human wellbeing. We ignored those mounting costs arising from activities to raise GDP. In the process, we have destroyed much of real and natural wealth that belong not only to our generations but to those unborn as well and all other life forms with whom we share this planet. We have done so for the sake of what we now begin to see are destructive illusions of prosperity, bringing upon ourselves an escalating number and magnitude of crises. These betrayed the very purposes for which the Bretton Woods Institutions were established. Here I am reminded of economics Nobel Laureate, Joe Stigliz, who remarked “what you measure is what you get.” And what do we get?

Our present GDP-based measures, literally report more fossil fuel combustion (and therefore more greenhouse gas emissions) as economic gain.

The faster we cut down our forests and haul in our fish stocks to extinction, and the more excessively we consume and deplete scarce resources, the more GDP grows.

Even pollution, crime, war, sickness, and natural disasters make GDP grow, simply because these ills cause money to be spent.

And GDP grows even as inequality and poverty increase.

5. A world in multiple crises:
Consumed by endless desire at any cost, ours is a story of an intelligent life form that stopped thinking rationally about its own wellbeing. Under the dictum of GDP, the primary function in life is to be economically productive to earn more income to consume more. Having reduced ourselves to mindless, insatiable and voracious beasts, we are consumers above all else and our value lies in the power to spend.

Our world is the market place and its forces rule our lives. We have created institutions and instruments beyond those of the Bretton Woods for subservience to these forces. Even the quality of democracy is gauged by the extent to which the market is allowed to function freely. Any intervention is frowned upon as undemocratic and sacrilegious. But we are discovering that the market goddess is neither infallible nor omnipotent. In her domain there reside no principles or values of democracy. She is whimsical, unpredictable at best and she can be cruel and unrepentant. She favours the rich against the poor and her unseen hand neglects those trapped in poverty. FAO reports that one in seven of the world’s population are hungry people while 850 million people are malnourished and 1.1 billion do not even have access to drinking water. 20% of the world’s rich people consume 86% of goods produced from our common heritage of natural resources, with the poorest 20% consuming just 1.3%.

With misplaced faith in GDP as the beacon for societal wellbeing, we have ceased to ponder the purpose of life. We speak of continuous and endless growth but never about its end purpose in relation to the ultimate purpose of life and desire of the human being. Our society is imperilled by the rising consequences of this irrational, irresponsible and reckless way of life. We are helpless hands aboard a rudderless ship in the middle of a tumultuous storm.

Ours is a world is troubled by economic and financial chaos; food and energy crises; health predicaments; environmental calamities; political instability and conflicts; and unconscionable social injustices and poverty amid affluence and wanton profit making.

6. Unravelling of the global economic system:
On 7th March, 2009,Thomas Friedman wrote in The New York Times: “What if the crisis of 2008 represents something much more fundamental than a deep recession? What if it’s telling us that the whole growth model we created over the last 50 years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically and that 2008 was when we hit the wall—when Mother Nature and the market both said: No more.”

With dramatic abruptness, major banks failed, iconic symbols of prosperity like General Motors went bankrupt, the stock market collapsed, life savings disappeared, the ranks of the unemployed swelled. These reminded us of how much of the wealth we create and accumulate is of no real value, for true wealth is what should provide security in difficult times of need. Europe is foundering in a gigantic debt crisis, the U.S. is deeply indebted, and years of sustained economic growth suddenly morphed—seemingly overnight—into the worst global economic downturn since the Great Depression.

But what proved bankrupt in 2008 was not only a failed economic paradigm but its most eminent theorists and practitioners, and the accounting system that sent them the wrong messages. The real moment of truth came when Alan Greenspan, former head of the U.S. Federal Reserve and chief of all bankers, confessed before Congress that he’d been fatally wrong in his prescriptions for the economy, and that he, economic guru of gurus, had no inkling of the impending financial catastrophe.

And bereft of ideas, the remedial measures taken were a recipe for disaster. The collapse spurred by debt-fuelled growth was expected to be cured with yet more debt-fuelled growth.

Not only did the massive fiscal stimulus packages of 2008–2009 predictably fail to stimulate the economy in the longer term, but they hastened the systemic collapse. The impending double-dip recession in the west is now being ushered in with high unemployment rates and unprecedented national deficits. No more stimulus or bailouts now. The clarion call has changed from “stimulus” to “deficit reduction.”

Not surprisingly, social unrest is brewing from Greece to London to “occupy Wall Street movement by the 99%”. Even during the prior two decades of apparent prosperity, young people lost ground, saw their median incomes drop and their debt loads increase, and they voted less—a sure warning sign of growing alienation from the established order.

And this is what Christine Legarde, the IMF boss had to say just last week, “There is no economy in the world, whether low-income countries, emerging markets, middle-income countries or super-advanced economies that will be immune to the crisis that we see not only unfolding but escalating,” she warned that the global economy faces the prospect of “economic retraction, rising protectionism, isolation and . . . what happened in the 30s… It is not a crisis that will be resolved by one group of countries taking action. It is going to be hopefully resolved by all countries, all regions, all categories of countries actually taking action”.

But even if all countries do come together, what would we do? What measures would we agree upon that would bring about a permanent cure?

On September 26, 2008, French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, said, “we must rethink the financial system from scratch, as at Bretton Woods.”[23]

In March 2010, Prime Minister Papandreou of Greece wrote: “Democratic governments worldwide must establish a new global financial architecture, as bold in its own way as Bretton Woods, as bold as the creation of the European Community and European Monetary Union. And we need it fast.” Joseph Stiglitz, likewise, argued in his article ‘towards a new global economic compact’ that, we are at another Bretton Woods moment…. We must not lose sight of our collective responsibility to do our best to prevent the recurrence of such devastating crises and to ensure an international system to support sustained and equitable development.

7. Dislocation of social systems
Amid such mindless economic growth and collapse of the economic system, if there ever was one, the nobler values of a civilized society are being eroded. Family, community and relationships that form the very core and basis of society are disintegrating.

We labour like mindless robots to earn more, unaware that there can never be enough to feed the insatiable greed within us. Those of us who supposedly succeed in the rat race, and are ‘ahead’, soon become aware of its hollowness and suffer the terrible physical, emotional and psychological costs. Without the support of stable and caring family or relationships, these are all the more difficult to bear. The stresses and strains are deepened by the loss of trust, unbearable loneliness, hostile perceptions, and the culture of competition. These are what have brought about a world suicide rate of 10.07 per 100,000 people or 1 million suicides each year – an increase of 60% in the last 45 years according to the WHO. Every 40 seconds, somebody takes his own life out of despair. And this does not include the 20 failed suicide attempts for each successful one.1 in 4 people in the world is affected by mental or neurological disorder at some point in their life with about 450 million people currently suffering from such conditions.

As more of us use only our digits in this digital age, the calories we consume make us weaker and vulnerable to a host of life style diseases. We live in bigger homes but have no room for relatives, friends and even parents; drive big, fast cars but cannot reach our loved and dear ones in times of need; adorn our wrists with precision watches to manage time, but find no moment for rest and leisure.

And how many of us look forward to the much deserved retirement at the end of our stressful and strenuous life? Who among us has the comforting knowledge that, as in the past before the advent of consumerism and nuclear families, we will age in grace and dignity – that we will be venerated and cared for by our younger generations? As modern medicine gives us longer life, are we not fearful of a prolonged winter of indignities and loneliness on the fringes of society? And as the younger and rich among us contemplate the modern-day convenience of consigning our aged parents to old-age homes, we need to accept the truth that the professional care they receive can never replace the love, respect and dignity they deserve. Dying amid family and loved ones, knowing there will be those who will grieve and mourn are part of ending life well. We need to ask whether India’s growing prosperity will come at all these unthinkable costs. What might India be doing to preserve, among others, the integrity of her extended family network that is the most natural and therefore, sustainable social safety net unlike the artificial social security systems that are failing even among the wealthiest of nations.

8. Collapse of Ecosystem:
Monbiot, an analyst and free thinker, wrote in the Guardian, “When the world’s ecological debt comes due, no World Bank or IMF bailout package will save the day.” For the first time, since the Industrial Revolution, it is clear that the next generation will not be better off than previous ones—economically, socially, or ecologically.

In our obsession with growth, we are over producing through over extraction of our planet’s scarce resources. Ecological footprint analysis points out that, by 2006, humanity as a whole was using 40 percent more than what the earth can regenerate. That means the living generations are already using up resources that belong to generations who are not here to fend for themselves. Yet, in recent years, the extractive industry has become even more exploitative to feed the soaring demands of the major emerging economies. Our excessive production of every conceivable item, from food to luxury goods, is beyond our actual needs. We know that starvation, malnutrition and preventable deaths are more the result of distributional failure than the absolute shortage of food and medicine.

The mountains of hazardous waste, environmental pollution, rapid depletion of natural resources and loss of bio diversity are the direct costs. These in turn are raising global temperatures, exposing life forms to harmful rays of the sun, with devastating and irreparable consequences of both the known and unknown kinds. Our climate is changing in ways that are confusing farmers and crops alike. Traditional wisdom is becoming irrelevant in farming, and crop failures and famines are becoming more frequent. Water sources, if not poisoned, are drying even in the high reservoirs of the Himalayas. Conflicts within and among nations for control of scarce resources are in the making with possible resolutions hindered by poor and often deteriorating neighbourly relations. Species are disappearing for ever and bring closer the reality of the end of human life.

In my own country, there are alarming signs of climate change. Not the least of these is the 22% withdrawal of the Himalayan glaciers in the last 30yrs. These feed the 2,674 glacial lakes in Bhutan which, in turn, are the sources of our river systems. At the current rate of global warming, glaciologists predict that all of the glaciers in the Himalayas could disappear in a few decades causing immeasurable destruction of life and property by glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs). But the costs for the Himalayan kingdoms of Bhutan and Nepal would pale to insignificance in comparison to the consequences on the Indian subcontinent, China and the Mekong Delta region.

What if the glacier-fed rivers of the Brahmaputra and the Ganges were to stop flowing just as many other rivers around the world will and there is no more ground water left to pump? How do we deal with the increasingly unpredictable weather conditions and the changing climate, not to speak of the rising frequency with which we are struck by natural calamities? How can mankind survive in a world without natural resources and an environment that is poisonous and inhospitable?

Allow me Hon. Vice President, at this point, to cite a heartening remark made by the Hon. Speaker last year at the 15th Radha Krishan Memorial Lecture wherein you had said, “History bears testimony to the fact that nature and environment have been central to our civilizational ethos. … Respect for our rich biodiversity is deeply ingrained in our psyche.” Likewise, the hon’ble Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said elsewhere that, “The concern for ecological sustainability is not a new phenomenon. In fact, India has a long cultural tradition of frugality and simple living in harmony with nature. All great religions which have traversed in our country have preached the unity of humankind with nature.”

India has the wisdom and the capacity to make a difference. I believe this great nation can do more not only on the domestic front but in the international fora to bring about a more responsible international response to the threats of an ecological catastrophe from which mankind may never recover. I am confident that India will play a positive and decisive role at the RIO+20 where the fate of humanity may, very well, be determined.

9. Search for a new economic paradigm
We are at a crossroads. While accepting the many good that the GDP based development model has done, it is time, if not too late, to accept that we need to relegate it to its limited use and establish a new architecture for genuine and progressive development of human society. Taking time away from the delusions of the material world and its suicidal tendency, we need to engage in serious reflection and contemplation.

Honourable Prime Minister, you have said: “In the final analysis, we have to recognize that the world must move away from production and consumption patterns which are carbon-intensive and energy-intensive. ….. We have to make changes in our lifestyles…that, charting these new pathways is not beyond our collective imagination. Life as we know it on our own beautiful planet is at stake.”

We need to be clear about what truly matters to us as human beings and live our life in ways that will give us contentment and happiness within a safe and supportive environment. We need to ensure that the good we have accomplished can be sustained and that meaningful societal progress can continue in ways that will ensure intergenerational equity. All we really need to do is let common sense and reason prevail. And measure what matters.

Recognizing such need, various attempts are being made to develop indices that are more comprehensive and promote sustainable human wellbeing. Some already in use are the:

Human Development Index (HDI) of the UNDP which measures development by combining indicators of life expectancy, educational attainment and income;

Genuine Progress Index (GPI) or sustainable economic welfare, which adjusts GDP for income distribution, adds value of household and volunteer work, and subtracts costs of crime and pollution;

Happy Planet Index (HPI) by New Economics Foundation, which ranks countries along life expectancy, life satisfaction, and per capita ecological footprint.; Now most recently, the

OECD Better Lives Dashboard – which is a compendium of indicators produced in 2011 to develop multi-dimensional approaches to welfare or wellbeing measurement.

But except for the UNDP’s HDI, these conceptual frameworks to promote and measure genuine progress are still on the margins of public policy. In the meanwhile, societies are increasingly dissatisfied with failure of governments to provide long term solutions.

Then, of course, there has always been the philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH) that has guided Bhutan’s development since the early 70s.

10. Gross National Happiness
Premised on the belief that Happiness is the purpose and ultimate desire of every human being, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the 4th King of Bhutan established Gross National Happiness as the country’s purpose of development. As human beings, we have needs not only for the body but of the mind and it is when the two needs are equally attended that one is able to enjoy a sustained state of being that is called happiness. Happiness is not ephemeral and is only partly conditioned by external stimuli. It is the ultimate desire of every human being and it is only natural that the primary role of the state must be to create enabling conditions for any citizen who chooses to pursue happiness. It is mainly for this role that the government must be held accountable.

Ever since GNH was introduced to the world as an alternate development paradigm at the UNDP Asia-Pacific Millennium Summit in 1998, more than 25 years after its application in Bhutan, it has become a popular subject of global discourse. In its wake, it has spawned a plethora of researches, books as well as various initiatives to translate its principles into action at the national, sub national, corporate and individual family levels. This led Bhutan, to collaborate with many thinkers and like-minded scholars across the world to develop robust measures, beyond the earlier initial four pillars of GNH, to assess the variations in happiness levels as a result of public policies, programmes and resource allocations by government. This included five international conferences on GNH across three continents of North America, South America and Asia with numerous national and institutional level meetings being held in many countries across the world. Consequently, there is now in place a comprehensive set of indices comprising nine causes or domains of happiness. These provide for a holistic, sustainable and inclusive development model which can be measured through 72 variables.

The nine domains are:

1. Living Standard, which covers basic economic status of citizens, incidence of poverty, level of employment, income distribution and inequalities and so on;

2. Health Status, which measures all health related conditions including life expectancy and morbidity rates;

3. Educational standard and relevance, which determines educational and skill access or attainment; integrity of family; civic, and cultural knowledge etc;

4. Ecological Diversity and Resilience, that will evaluate the status of land, water, forest, air, and biodiversity including such determinants as production, waste, transportation, energy use, and ecological footprint;

5. Cultural Diversity and Resilience, as a measure of people’s core values, local customs and traditions, and related changes etc ;

6. Community Vitality, which will asses the strengths and weaknesses in relationships, trust, voluntarism, community life and general social capital including the vitality of extended family network;

7. Time Use, will look into proportion of time accorded to work, travel, household chores, social, leisure and family vitalizing activities;

8. Psychological Well being, the decline of which is among the biggest challenges of modern, urban life will look at various levels of mental illness, suicide and such other incidence; and lastly,

9. Governance Quality, that will measure participation; delivery of justice; freedom and quality of media; transparency, accountability, corruption; trust in media and government and so on.

The seriousness with which these indices are applied on the ground in Bhutan is to be found in the way all proposed government policies are subject to a screening process by the Gross National Happiness Commission. The process ensures that unless a policy contributes positively to each of the domains or is negative at the very least, it is rejected and can be reconsidered only if the negative aspects are removed or replaced with positive ones. Likewise, it is rare for any public discourse on development to take place without invoking GNH. It is in keeping with this pervasive and conscious pursuit of happiness that even the annual State of the Nation Report of the Prime minister to the Parliament is structured and presented on the basis of the four pillars of Gross National Happiness.

It may be of some interest to the distinguished gathering that the last national population housing and census reported the following levels of happiness among the Bhutanese people:

Not very happy = 3%
Happy =52%
Very happy = 45%

Various comparative indices have similarly, shown Bhutan as being among the happiest country in the world. And therefore, it is no wonder that many visitors to Bhutan are people in quest of happiness believing that we are a happy people, a happy country. I am at pains to explain that Bhutan is far from happiness as a poor country that is still at a stage of development when providing basic services to the people is a major challenge and when a significant section of our people still live in squalor. What is however, different between Bhutan and most other countries is that we are serious about the pursuit of happiness and long term survival. Happiness in Bhutan is the basis of all public policies and resultant decisions on resources allocation.

The truth is that no country and no people anywhere can be complacent and rightly claim to be happy. How can anyone be happy when all things are falling apart and when our future as a race is doomed, unless we start acting responsibly and sensibly – unless we are able to break out of the mould of consumerism to pursue not so much the unknown but the less trodden saner path.

I do not despair. I am encouraged by the dedication of President Sarkozy to the search for an alternate development paradigm that will promote happiness. I am heartened by Prime Minister David Cameron’s policy and measures being taken to make wellbeing the central purpose of British governance. I am enthused by Australian government’s announcement that its ranking on the GNH index had risen by 0.3 points during 2010. Likewise, the Japanese government’s announcement earlier this month, that it will soon launch a GNH survey was refreshing. And in Brazil, sub-national governments and communities have already started implementing GNH metrics and programmes. Upon universities having started courses on GNH and Institutes of GNH having popped up in various parts of the world, there is cause for hope. I certainly considered it very significant that the magazine, OUTLOOK should bring out a cover story last month on “India’s Happiest Cities” with Jaipur being the happiest, Ahmedabad the least happy and Mumbai being happier than Delhi.

And there in the United Nations, the General Assembly unanimously passed a resolution in July this year, on the pursuit of Happiness as a timeless goal that provides the basis for a holistic, sustainable and inclusive development paradigm. In April 2012, Bhutan will be the coordinator for a high level meeting at the UN in New York at which, leaders, governments, thinkers, economists and scientists and civil society will come together to direct and establish an arrangement for the development of a holistic and inclusive paradigm for sustainable human wellbeing.

India’s direct and substantive role at the meeting to launch the endeavour toward a new paradigm is critical not only because of its demographic responsibility but because India and the people of India have the wisdom and capacity to make a big difference to the outcome. It is also because we can no longer delay our departure from what is just not sustainable and will end life on earth.

Just as the dark future will be of our own making, it is within the genius of mankind to make it bright and hopeful. What it needs is the will to do so.

I believe this is the kind of endeavour for the success of which Professor Hiren Mukherjee would have lent his brilliant mind and winning oratory.

I thank you for your kind indulgence.

Tashi Delek

(Lecture delivered at the Fourth Prof Hiren Mukherjee Lecture in Indian parliament)