Bhutan and Happiness centered development paradigm, Thimphu, Bhutan.
Bhutan coordinated a conference of Happiness Experts from 30th January – to - 2nd February, 2013. They were in search of the elusive path to a new development paradigm that could replace the decades of GDP and GNP centered development goals. Ordinary Bhutanese had no role but the brief news in the media provided a glimpse of the diversity within ( maybe confusion and turmoil ) of views that prevailed amongst some 40 or more international experts and Bhutanese proponents of Gross National Happiness.
Is it possible to work out a realistic and practically meaningful framework, for a new development paradigm, centered on human happiness that can be a viable substitute for the decades of GDP guided economy that promoted materialism and consumption? Some experts felt that Bhutan had advocated this business of happiness and therefore Bhutanese should show the way whilst few shared an equal sense of responsibility and still for others it was a forum to expound their individual or organizational agenda on democracy, environment and social affairs.
One thing was clear, the Bhutanese nine domains of happiness was adopted as the basis for conference to work upon because the experts had no pre-prepared proposal nor could they agree on alternate dimensions during the 1st day of brain storming. And definitely they were hard pressed for time and therefore condescended to work upon these nine domains with an escape clause to add a 10th domain if called for.
From the few cursory articles in the media and three interviews telecast by BBS, somehow it did not strike to me, that the experts have had a realistic grasp of the task, ‘framing a conception for a new development paradigm that would be focusing on human happiness, post the millennium goal (2015)’. They were hopeful but not at all confident of going about the task at hand. Few even were washing their hands off with such remarks as : “the Bhutanese people should make clear how to go about this” ; “it is Bhutan’s call and it is Bhutan’s show” ; “the report must go under the aegis of Bhutanese government.” (reference: Kuensel)
If only Bhutan had the intellectual capacity and financial resources, to frame a conceptual happiness centered road map (internationally acceptable and workable diagram) for a new development paradigm on our own, the Bhutanese person by now would be in the 7th heaven. We need outside finance, experiences and intellectual inputs to find a trek-able path to achieve the goal we have set, “being happy”. And if this path is discovered, it will provide the highway for other nations to speed on.
Happiness should have been the very purpose of life beginning from the 1st life and maybe like many ironies in life, we the human beings realized this purpose only when we reached the end of our lives. By then it’s too little of happiness and too late in time to again revisit our life journey.
However, more than two centuries ago, a founding-father of a nation wrote down his moenlam (prayer) for his nation, “Life, Liberty and pursuit of Happiness…” Whether that nation pursued happiness or domination, one must leave it to experts to debate and squabble and for historians to write the epitaph. But what cannot be disputed is that a Buddha-like-nation-founding-father realized that the happiness of its citizens must be the guiding goal of a great nation.
Several decades ago, a young Buddhist King of a little known Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan resonated this very theme of happiness, “Being happy is more important than being wealthy”. And this wisdom was fashioned to relate to the acceptable jargon of development concepts such as GDP and GNP. Thus the birth of Gross National Happiness (GNH).
His Majesty King Jigmi Singye Wangchuck experienced what life was, absent of happiness. By destiny he was born to be a King and by fate of life he was pre-maturely crowned the King in 1972 at the age of 16. The young King was faced with the titanic task of healing the agony and the wounds of the broken royal families and at the same time provide anchor to a rudderless nation that was at imminent danger of sovereignty risk. For a long time, happiness and peace of mind was a scarcity beyond the grasp of His Majesty.
In being a King, he had the temporal powers and by Bhutanese’s meager standard, the King could be considered wealthy. But happiness was more elusive to him than to a yak herder in the mountains of his Kingdom. Therefore, when he said, a few years later, that his priority was to secure happiness for his people, he meant it from the bottom of his heart. It was not a statement of political, economic or social definition of his reign. It was what he missed most in his early reign and he did not want his people to be also deprived of the true essence of life, “Being Happy”.
The foundation of happiness at national level is achieving peace and security. And at family level it’s sharing love and pain and at community level (village or world) it is sharing the burden and the privilege. Joy, ecstasy and comfort contribute to sense of being happy but these are not happiness in themselves. To a Caribbean lying on a white sandy beach under a palm tree could be pure joy. A young couple in loving embrace may experience ecstasy and there is comfort for elderly couples in sharing the same bed. Being happy is more than just being religious, having food and shelter or experiencing pleasure. It’s just not restricted to equal opportunity and justice and freedom from fear and aggression. It is attaining the moral height of accepting ownership and onus in equal proportion. It is respecting other’s space without having to fight for one’s right. It is the ability to appreciate the strength of the male and charm of the female ( law of nature ) and the protection of the weak (mother’s instinct) and principles of community co-existence ( sharing the burden and privilege ).
Unlike the fields of economics and science, happiness has no set formulae. It is a conciliatory effort that needs to be constantly energized at different levels and at various stages of life between persons, communities, races and nations to make possible for the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak to attain their level of satisfaction and harmony in life.
Pillars of happiness need to be grounded upon the field of reasonableness. Being reasonable is accepting what belongs to others to be theirs. Therefore it is not proper or decent to demand that the fruits of other’s labour (wealth) be distributed. Rather the call must be for sharing the burden and the privilege. The common desire must be to seek accommodation with and not domination over neighbour, race or nation.
In co-existence of communities, lies group happiness and in family harmony, lies individual member happiness. At individual level my happiness must not be the root cause of your illness. And at international level, your national supremacy must not subjugate my national aspiration. Only then peace and harmony can prevail and thus provide the foundation of human happiness at world level. Thus the new development paradigm must be based on selfless investments and policies to promote national wellbeing and which fosters individual and community happiness for the present as well as for the future.
GDP and GNP still have relevance to individual and national pursuit of life but no longer in the pivotal way that had been defined in the earlier decades because we now know that wellbeing is one level above the economic comfort of food, shelter, health and education. Happiness cannot be defined but it can be felt and seen. If Bhutanese truly achieve happiness it will be noticed by others without the need of explanations and statistical measurement of dominant scales.
In the far future, when the Nations of the UN Family understand that their aspirations need to be in complementary with that of their fellow neighbours, the seed of happiness would germinate. And the Kingdom of Bhutan would then have truly contributed to the wellbeing of the human being. Until then the Bhutanese leaders, the assorted pool of international experts and UN Agencies need to keep juggling the dominos and weighing the dominant factors in search of the path to the illusive plateau of happiness even after the spring of 2014 that may see at the UN, a detailed and complete report on the new development paradigm.