First UN International Day Of Happiness: Where Did The Concept Of ‘Gross National Happiness’ Originate?

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By Gopi Chandra Kharel | March 20, 2013 5:17 PM EST

Shall we celebrate the first International Day of Happiness?

For the world which has been gearing up for economic prosperity and material gain and measuring development in such yardsticks as "Gross Domestic Product", there is little time to think if there could indeed be a way to find real happiness.

Proudly touting the concept of "Gross National Happiness," the tiny Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan follows its government policies that aim to strike a fine balance between material gain and spiritual values as a way forward to impart real happiness in citizens. The fourth King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuk who abdicated his throne in 2006 and gave his responsibilities to his son, originally came up with the concept when he was crowned in 1972, that government policies should aim towards imparting happiness to people and not just producing material well-being indicated by the GDP.

After governments across the nations faced much betrayal from GDP; leaders, economists and social scientists all alike have started paying attention to this concept. International movements are underway that seek to measure progress through metrics that incorporate well-being and happiness.

Bhutan has been trying in earnest to build what has been called "Gross National happiness Index" - a comprehensive method of measuring happiness and well-being by making use of nine domains: psychological well-being, health, education, time use, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience, and living standards. A survey that used the method of GHN Index found five years after the abdication of fourth king, that 41 percent of people in Bhutan were happy after they attained "sufficiency" in two-thirds of indicators (there are 33 indicators under those 9 domains). Only 10 percent were "unhappy."

The year 2011 saw a historic event in the history of Bhutanese happiness concept. Bhutan sponsored U.N. resolution 65/309 called "Happiness: Towards a Holistic Approach to Development," which categorically renounces GDP as an inefficient yardstick to reflect the goal of "happiness" and declares firmly that a more balanced approach based on an amalgamation of economic prosperity and spiritual values is needed.

U.N. General Assembly adopted the resolution and last spring in New York City, Bhutan hosted a meeting that publicized the well-being indicators and the concept of GNH that attracted as much as 800 enthused audiences and merited a unanimous applaud.

March 20 has thus been declared as the International Happiness Day to celebrate the importance of going beyond the concept of GDP as a measure of progress and adopt better measures of well-being indicated by the eccentric Bhutanese concept of Gross National Happiness.

A country which has been widely felicitated for coming up with a holistic approach towards development also suffers the dent of producing one of the highest numbers of refugees in the world in comparison to its total population. Nearly 80,000 of its southern ethnic Nepali-speaking minorities had to flee the country in early 1990's repressed by the country's policy of 'One Nation One People' that enforced the rule to dress, speak and indeed be like those from Northern Bhutan. The refugees have all been resettled in the west, 60,000 of them in the United States.

Many countries in the world, including Canada, France and Britain, however, have already added measures of happiness to their national statistics impressed by the concept of Gross National Happiness brought forth by the tiny nation in the Himalayas.

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