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The kingdom of Bhutan, situated in the Himalayan Mountains, bordered by India, Tibet, and China, is a nation of approximately 672,425 people (Anielski 137). In the year 2005, the nation had a gross national product (GDP) per capita of about $US 3,921 and was ranked 117th in the world.
By conventional economic measures, Bhutan is a relatively poor, developing country with a resource based economy that relies on forestry, animal husbandry, subsistence agriculture, and now increasingly, hydroelectricity, cash crops and tourism. However, the nation is far beyond developed countries as its physical environment is beautiful. It is also closer to being sustainable than nearly any other country in the world.
Bhutan fits the idea of Shangri-La in many respects. It only allowed foreigners into the country from the 1970s, and continues to restrict the entry of tourists. A hereditary monarchy has ruled the country since the start of the twentieth century. The Bhutanese are mainly Buddhists and the nation has a life expectancy of 63 years for men and 64 years for women. Late in the 1990s, television and the Internet were allowed, and King Jigme Singye Wangchuk installed parliamentary democracy in 2008.
Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness
Bhutan has adopted an official policy, passed by parliament, of Gross National Happiness (GNH) where by the pursuit of happiness takes precedence over economic prosperity and GDP. Apparently, this isolated Tibetan Buddhist nation, led by King Jigme Singye Wangchuk, is the only country in the world that has made attempts to measure a well-being by GNH instead of Gross National Product or GNP (Anielski 139).
Bhutan leaders introduced the idea of GNH in order to strengthen the Buddhist spiritual system of belief. GNH measures and manages what matters most in people’s lives such as the quality of life, happiness of people, and good stewardship of the earth. In addition, GNH is intended to encourage debates on how different teachings and ethical beliefs of the Bhutanese people can be factored into the nation’s economy.
In essence, GNH focuses policy debate on well-being and the pursuit of happiness rather than the mere acquisition of material things, consumption or production. At its heart, GNH is based on the Buddhist philosophy. In Buddhism, happiness is not determined by what we have and own but rather by the qualities of being.
A study by Morrall indicated that Bhutan scores very well in the Happy Index in the Happy Planet Index, which is not surprising given that it has led the way in terms of furnishing a culture of happiness (Morrall 19). Bhutan assesses success through its GNH index instead of the economically driven measurements of GNP and GDP.
The four specific pillars of GNH as defined by King Jigme Thinley, upon which GNH rests, are good governance, cultural preservation, environmental conservation, and economic development. Each of these pillars has qualities that have never been and can never be quantified, but can be analyzed objectively.
According to Bansil, the Bhutan 2020 vision document defines GNH’s role as a single unifying concept to identify future directions of policy (28). The King’s argument is that there are many concepts of development other than the GDP and the aim is to maximize happiness, rather than economic growth. Besides economic needs, the Bhutanese government believes that every single individual has many other needs that must be met.
Consequently, development should be seen as the sum total of all the needs that are critical to human existence. The truth is that GNH is an almost intuitive idea to the Bhutanese and their King seeking to reconcile the need for development with preserving the essential ethos of Bhutanese spiritual and cultural life. In philosophical terms, the four pillars would come naturally to the Bhutanese people, living in an environment blessed by nature’s bounty, pride in their culture, and consequences of the benefits of good governance.
In Bhutan, inner spiritual development is as important as external material development. Enlightening of an individual, not merely in the religious sense, is thus a critical requirement. At the very least, Bhutan’s contribution has served to stir a new debate on what is happiness and limitations of the fashionable paradigms of seeking happiness by possessing more and more goodies.
If life expectancy can be taken to be one valid indicator of the success of GNH, then Bhutan has been a roaring success. From 1984 to 1998, life expectancy increased by 19 years. There are other tangible indicators where the country has also done extremely well. In the year 2006, gross national enrolment rate of primary schools reached 72 per cent, and the literacy rate grew from 17 per cent to 47.5 per cent (Bansil 29).
Clearly, Bhutan has demonstrated to the whole world that people centric development is a workable economic model. GNH is, therefore, a multi-dimensional measure that should take the place of GDP.
Politic Reforms and Modernization
According to MCC, Bhutan is a near absolute monarchy that is in transition toward a democratic system (502). In 2005, King Jigme Singye Wangchuk announced that a constitution would be presented to the people for approval in a referendum. The new system was scheduled to come into effect in 2008. The chief of the state of Bhutan is the king, and the throne is hereditary in the male line of the Wangchuk dynasty, which was established in 1907, when a system of joint chiefs of state was replaced.
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In 1968, the king created a council of ministers to assist him handle administrative duties. Originally, six ministries were established with an additional four ministries added in 2003. From 1998, the responsibility of choosing members of government shifted from the king to the National Assembly. However, the king nominates potential ministers to the national assembly, and because the assembly is not independent, ultimate authority rests with the monarch. Since 1988, the position of prime minister is held in turns by the cabinet take.
In 2005, the king proposed a two chamber legislature commonly known as the Parliament. The National Assembly would have more than 75 members, elected by universal adult suffrage for five years. Each district would elect between two and seven members, depending on its population.
Two political parties would be allowed to operate. The upper house would comprise 25 members, one elected from each district for five years, plus five members chosen by the king. Members of the National Council would not be allowed to be members in any political party. The government would be led by a prime minister, whose party had a majority in the lower house.
The prime minister would not serve more than two five year terms. The king would retain the power to appoint the principal officials of state and to approve bills from the Parliament. Succession to the throne would be extended to the princess, and the monarch would be obliged to abdicate at the age of 65.
Bhutan is one of the world’s poorest states characterized by remoteness, underdevelopment, and lack of resources. All viable land routes to Bhutan pass through India, which economically dominates its neighbor Bhutan. The kingdom depends on India for financial assistance, and is not financially independent. Bhutan’s currency, the ngultrum, is on a par with the Indian rupee, which also circulates in Bhutan.
In general, Bhutan’s terrain hinders the nation’s development (MCC 510). More than 97 per cent of the land area is composed of rugged mountains and steep slopes that have no soil or are too cold to be farmed. In 2003, the Bhutanese GDP was $2.9 billion and this came mainly from agriculture, industry, and services sectors.
Bhutan has reserves of timber and deposits of dolomite and limestone, gypsum, calcium carbonate, beryl, copper, coal, graphite, iron ore, and lead. This notwithstanding, most of Bhutan’s resources are too small or too inaccessible to be commercially viable. Arable land and land that is permanently cropped account for only 2.7 per cent of Bhutan.
In spite of this, 93 per cent of the labor force is employed in farming. Industry in Bhutan is small scale and employs only 2 per cent of the labor force. The services sector employs 5 per cent of the labor force but provides 45 per cent of the country’s GDP.
Preservation of Cultural Value
Preserving and promoting culture is generally regarded as an important factor in the development of the Bhutanese nation. This is mainly driven by the general belief in Bhutan that when a nation loses its cultural heritage, people tend to be dissatisfied.
As a result, Bhutan zealously guards its culture and the government sees the preservation of culture as a high priority (Biswas-Diener 77). This is strengthened by the school system which requires Bhutanese values to be taught side by side with science, mathematics, and English language.
The Bhutanese national language, Dzongkha, is spoken by around 50 per cent of the population. Bhutanese legendary culture is closely related to the Tibetan Buddhist literature and is mainly concerned with Buddhist themes. Early works are preserved in fortified monasteries that are found throughout Bhutan.
Traditional buildings in Bhutan are constructed from either mud bricks for domestic buildings or stone for major public and religious structures. Both types of buildings have colorfully painted or carved wooden doors, window frames, and roofs. The two most characteristic buildings are the farmhouse and the Dzong, both constructed without using nails (Minahan 27).
Traditional dances such as the mask dances performed by monks at festivals frequently had a religious significance. The Bhutanese celebrate many festivals, a large number of which are local. National public holidays include the winter solstice, which is celebrated according to a lunar calendar rather than the Western calendar.
However, modern public holidays are celebrated according to the Western calendar. The cuisine of Bhutan reflects the relatively limited range of food items available to the nation’s substance farmers, almost all of whom own cattle. Generally, the cuisine is rice based, and dairy foods, such as cheese and butter, feature prominently in recipes.
The Preservation of Environment
Given that many Bhutanese people depend on the environment for their daily subsistence, environmental conservation is an important undertaking for the nation. This is particularly true for agricultural populations (Biswas-Diener 78). Environmental preservation is easily acceptable to the Bhutanese people who strongly believe that being reckless only creates an unhappy nation.
As a result, all citizens have a major responsibility to ensure that the environment is preserved for future generations. This in turn has limited severe environmental degradation such as seen in neighboring countries like Nepal where the denuding of forests on the slopes of the Himalaya has led to landslides that have destroyed villages and taken lives.
Environmental benefits that have been derived from this pillar of GNH include the listing of Bhutan as a world of biodiversity, increased preservation policies, and constitutional protection of the environment (Wiessala 46).
Comparing Bhutan to the US, Bhutan’s environment is not polluted and its people are generally happy. Besides having the highest number species worldwide, Bhutan also has a huge portion of its total land under forest cover.
There is need for Bhutan to intensify its diplomatic relations with other nations across the world. With support from the Indian community, the nation has been able to establish a number of diplomatic relations with at least 23 countries.
In creating these relationships, the nation started by joining the United Nations. Today, Bhutan is a member of several international bodies which IMF, UNESCO, and SAARC (Peksen 15).
Clearly, there is so much that the world can learn from the Bhutanese society. Its passion to preserve the environment is especially admirable and can help the world deal with the issues of climate change and global warming which now pose serious threats to human existence.
Anielski, Mark. The Economics of Happiness: Building Genuine Wealth, Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers, 2007. Print.
Bansil, Puran. Poverty Mapping In Rajasthan, Concept Publishing Company, 2006. Print.
Biswas-Diener, Robert. Positive Psychology As Social Change, New York: Springer, 2011. Print.
Marshall Cavendish Corporation (MCC). World and Its Peoples: Eastern and Southern Asia, Tarrytown, New York: Marshall Cavendish, 2007. Print.
Minahan, James. Ethnic Groups of South Asia and the Pacific: An Encyclopedia, Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2012. Print.
Morrall, Peter. The Trouble with Therapy: Sociology and Psychotherapy, New York, NY: McGraw-Hill International, 2008. Print.
Peksen, Dursun. Liberal Interventionism and Democracy Promotion, Lanham, MA: Lexington Books, 2012. Print.
Wiessala, Georg. The European Union and Asian Countries, New York, NY: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2002. Print.