“Gross National Happiness: A gift from Bhutan to the world”, is a chapter written by George W. Burns in the book titled “Positive Psychology as Social Change”. The author has profusely accredited the principle of the Gross National Happiness (GNH) as initiated by fourth king of Bhutan in 1972. Burns has put lot of efforts to highlight the policy (concept) of gross national happiness as presented by government of Bhutan to the outside world. The author has also laid emphasis to describe the natural environment of Bhutan contributing to GNH policy but significantly omitted the social and political environment which actually plays the major role in GNH (Burns). The goal of the author is based on explaining the meaning and possibilities of GNH in Bhutan’s perspective. The author also introduces the Bhutanese history, culture, religion, people and government with reference to the statistics developed by absolute monarchy of Bhutan. “The nation-state of Bhutan, which is often mentioned by certain authors for its effort to maximize Gross National Happiness rather than gross national product, is not a relevant example, because that country is not a developed democracy” (Frey). This clarifies that GNH is wonderful idea but its implication is yet to bear fruit in the kingdom of Bhutan. The book is wonderfully written but it is very far away from the reality of happiness in Bhutan. The author’s positive view towards GNH as introduced in the chapter is very inspiring subject to the readers. However, the content represents certain elite class of people who are closely related to the monarch. The selection of the subject and opening of the Bhutan’s view towards GNH can be rewarded to the writer as it provides the readers the road to research about the true GNH in Bhutan.
Every individual in this world are struggling for happiness and healthy life. There is no evidence presented by the author as a foolproof that countries like Bhutan ranked at 170 in terms of development should have highest GNH (CIA, 2012). The author has also acknowledged the major changes in Bhutan becoming the newest democratic country in the world.
Human rights and democracy were the two key institutional frameworks for governance demanded by the people of Bhutan in 1990. But the government turned deaf ear to this and embarked on mass eviction of people particularly in Southern Bhutan and expelled more than one hundred thousand people from the country (CIA, 2012). The author also mentions that king of Bhutan forced democracy to its people who have little or no education. This is absolutely true because the leaders and people with more democratic mind-set have spent two decades in the refugee camp in Nepal.
Still the king is supreme power of the country and therefore question arises about the true meaning of democracy in Bhutan.
In 1640, the religious ruler of Bhutan, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal established a treaty with Ram Shah, the King of Gorkha (Nepal) and took 41 skillful Nepalese families to Bhutan for construction of monasteries, roads and introduced agriculture in Bhutan. Nepali origin Bhutanese lived in Bhutan for more than two centuries before the present ruler established the hereditary monarchy in 1907. The real sense of gross national happiness comes from Southern Bhutanese who actually developed that country, the way it is today (History).
The fourth king candidly mentioned the happiness as his philosophical goal for development, later to be carried to outside world in a chimerical attempt to bring mono-ethnic and mono-culture in that country. “The 1958 Citizenship Act was followed by the enactment of the new Citizenship Act in 1985 that was implemented in 1988. The national census was held in 1985, particularly to identify the southern Bhutanese. According to the census, out of Bhutan’s total population of 1,370,000, nearly 45 per cent were of Nepali origin by their ethnicity (Ikram). It can be said thus, the GNH has become propaganda and a grand design to purify the perpetrators of their ethnic cleansing ego, lest it bring happiness to the very common citizens of Bhutan. The author has not touched down to this complexity of helm of affairs which the advocates of GNH are manipulating and trumpeting the happiness mantra. The reality is something different if we immerse in the Bhutanese folks living in hamlets.
It is mentioned in the good governance section of the book, that king has advocated the democracy for the people in 1998, but this is simply a theory and there are no evidences that chapter of democracy was included in curriculum of Bhutanese Education. United Nation Education and Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), fortunately one of the few UN programs which operate in Bhutan also does not mention that the country had pre-democratic education in the schools and points out the need of reframing Bhutanese school curriculum (World). Bhutan is an isolated country from rest of the world and seek advice from India in its foreign policy due to 1949 Indo-Bhutan treaty. However, it is mentioned that Bhutan can make some decision by itself since 1998 after discussing with its Indian counterpart. It is another surprising fact that Bhutan did not have TV and internet until 1999 (BBC, UK). Gross National Happiness cannot be obtained by any country over night; it is achieved through the period of time when the country become successful in addressing needs of its individual citizen.
Happiness cannot be gifted by any government, organization or entrepreneurs. It is an abstract feeling of self-motivation which is generated in the mind of an individual. Thus, happiness is feeling like love which originates from heart of an individual and passes through family, society, country and the global human kind.
In this book, the author has used golden words in highlighting the happiness expressed by individual rulers of the monarchy and it is true because they are successful in taking away its citizens’ happiness. In my perception, Gross National Happiness is the sum of happiness achieved by all the citizens of the country, irrespective of ethnicity, color, religion, sex, disability, rich and poor and promotes the global happiness. Internationally, if a country claims happiness, it should have crystal clear reputation in regards to democratic values, civil liberties, life free of fear and hatred with fundamental tenets of human rights.
There is profound praise for the nature and natural environment of Bhutan described by the author. The author has clearly mentioned that Bhutan is a tiny Himalayan country whose health, happiness and wealth are nature. The snow clad mountains and swift flowing rivers are the centers for tourist attraction and income. Landlocked country Bhutan is far away from pollution emitting factories, industries and machineries which are adversely affecting rest of the world. Bhutan can take its pride in contribution of natural environment to reduce global warming. Natural environment has greatly contributed to its GNH rather than good governance.
The author has selected the magnificent topic of gross national happiness; however, Bhutan is the wrong country to give credit on happiness as United Nation is taking care of thousands of Bhutanese refugees evicted from the same happy-savvy country, for twenty years. In my point of view, it is a great fortune that Bhutan is seeking gross national happiness and to complement this, the country must welcome its expelled citizens with justice delivered back to their homes. Otherwise, the type of happiness the author has mentioned generates various questions: is it a gross national happiness when the absolute rulers are enjoying and a section of people are starving in refugee camps in another country? Or is it an excellent philosophy to follow by world rulers to establish mono-ethnic society and promote GNH? Or correct the manipulation of GNH and establish the real principle of happiness? Thus, Gross National Happiness is a great challenge to Bhutan and it is not a gift to rest of the world.
Amnesty International’s press office in London, UK, on 44 171 413 5566 http://www.amnesty.org/en/region/bhutan?page=1. 21 Dec., 1999.Web. 18 Oct. 2012.
BBC, London, UK http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-12641778 . July 11, 2012. Web. Sep. 30, 2012.
Burns George W. Gross national happiness: a gift of Bhutan to the world. Positive Psychology as a social Change. http://www.springerlink.com/content/j72w78434r1n45h0/.2011. Web. Sep. 30, 2012.
Frey Bruno S. Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth.
http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/amerjpsyc.123.4.0483. 2010. Web. Oct. 18, 2012.
History of Bhutan. http://www.reocities.com/CapitolHill/Parliament/9728/history.html n.d. web. Nov. 18, 2012.
Ikram Zubia. Bhutanese Refugee in Nepal: An Analysis Author(s). Pakistan Horizon, Vol. 58, and No.3 (July 2005), pp. 101-116Published by: Pakistan Institute of International Affairs http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/41394105?uid=3739696&uid=2&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21101913677381. July, 2005.web. Oct. 18, 2012.
World Data on Education. United Nation Education Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). http://www.ibe.unesco.org/fileadmin/user_upload/Publications/WDE/2010/pdf-versions/Bhutan.pdf. 11 July, 2011. web. Oct. 10, 2012.
[Born in Burichhu, Chirang, Bhutan, the author graduated from North Bengal University in B.S degree in 2008 and moved to US. He is working as Case Manager/ Coordinator in post- resettlement agency as an advocate and non-licensed clinician for Bhutanese community since Dec. 2008 in Boston, Massachusetts, and is studying Chemistry measure in final year to obtain second B.S degree in US. He can be reached at [email protected]]
- Rup Narayan Pokhrel from the United States edited this article