should be obvious to all that human happiness is created by many
things that are not easily measured in purely economic terms. In the
United States the most dominant values are individualism and
consumerism. The phrase that best captures this reality is: In the
United States “to have is to be” and “to be is to have”.
This is not a prescription for happiness. Poor nations focusing on
economic growth are bound to be disappointed as political leaders
will be confronted with economic disparity, social unrest and
Florida State University Professor of History, Darrin McMahon writes,
in virtually every Indo-European language the modern word for
happiness is cognate with luck, fortune or fate. “Happ” was the
Middle English word for chance or fortune. Ancient Greek has a
phrase that states “Call no man happy until he is dead”.
It is, therefore, no surprise that a present-day movement to promote
gross national happiness began in a non-Western Buddhist country and
in the United States always say that we need to return to the
writings of our Founding Fathers. Since conservatives strike me as a
generally unhappy group, I would urge them to return to the writings
of Thomas Jefferson in July 1776. Jefferson, in the Declaration of
Independence, claimed the “pursuit of happiness” as a basic
human right, the only time in US history that happiness was
officially proposed as a national objective.
February 2004, an initial conference on gross national happiness was
held in Bhutan. This was followed by a conference in Nova Scotia,
Canada in June 2005. Participants at the conferences examined
successful initiatives worldwide that attempt to integrate
sustainable and equitable economic development with environmental
conservation, social and cultural cohesion and good governance.
McDonald, a professor at the University of Auckland, New Zealand
rightly points out that the gross national happiness movement would
make a serious error to believe that national happiness constitutes
a new goal. It has been a goal of all major religions and
philosophies for centuries. As McDonald states, even those forms of
social governance which have produced massive suffering (from
religious crusades to Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and countless others)
fundamentalists promote wealth as the path to happiness. To seek
happiness is nothing new but in postmodern societies where image
trumps substance, the tendency is to confuse the means to happiness
with the end itself. The move to promote gross national happiness is
only possible in a country that places priority in cultivating moral
maturity. In this respect, philosophy and religion can serve as a
argued that progress towards happiness, which he believed
constituted the ultimate goal of human existence, was only possible
by cultivating moral virtue.
Confucianism the state of wu-wei is characterized by respect,
sympathy, service and generosity, which are attitudes inseparable
from happiness. In Hinduism, the cultivation of upeksa, mudtia,
maitri and brahmacarya represent the flowering of the human
potential for joy and happiness. The same is true for Judaism,
Jainism and Sufism. For Muslims, the Five Pillars of Islam aim to
inculcate a happy morality in which charity, peacefulness, fellow
feeling and the control of selfishness are the highest and most
Bhutan is a Buddhist culture, the development strategy for GNH aims
to inculcate mature, non-exploitative and unselfish attitudes upon
which healthy and happy relationships can be created and maintained
within Bhutan as well as those with surrounding countries. Along
with traditional Buddhism, Bhutan should promote the fourteen
precepts of socially engaged Buddhism as outlined by Trich Nhat Hahn.
The fourteen precepts are:
1. Do not be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine,
theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. Buddhist systems of
thought are guiding means; they are not absolute truth.
2. Do not think the knowledge you presently possess is
changeless, absolute truth. Avoid being narrow minded and bound to
present views. Learn and practice nonattachment from views in
order to be open to receive others' viewpoints. Truth is found in
life and not merely in conceptual knowledge.
3. Do not force others, including children, by any means
whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat,
money, propaganda, or even education. However, through
compassionate dialogue, help others renounce fanaticism and
4. Do not avoid suffering or close your eyes before suffering.
Do not lose awareness of the existence of suffering in the life of
the world. Find ways to be with those who are suffering, including
personal contact, visits, images and sounds. By such means, awaken
yourself and others to the reality of suffering in the world.
5. Do not accumulate wealth while millions are hungry. Do not
take as the aim of your life fame, profit, wealth, or sensual
pleasure. Live simply and share time, energy, and material
resources with those who are in need.
6. Do not maintain anger or hatred. Learn to penetrate and
transform them when they are still seeds in your consciousness.
7. Do not lose yourself in dispersion and in your
surroundings. Be in touch with what is wondrous, refreshing, and
healing both inside and around you. Plant seeds of joy, peace, and
understanding in yourself in order to facilitate the work of
transformation in the depths of your consciousness.
8. Do not utter words that can create discord and cause the
community to break. Make every effort to reconcile and resolve all
conflicts, however small.
9. Do not say untruthful things for the sake of personal
interest or to impress people. Do not utter words that cause
division and hatred. Do not spread news that you do not know to be
certain. Do not criticize or condemn things of which you are not
sure. Always speak truthfully and constructively. Have the courage
to speak out about situations of injustice, even when doing so may
threaten your own safety.
10. Do not use the Buddhist community for personal gain or
profit, or transform your community into a political party. A
religious community, however, should take a clear stand against
oppression and injustice and should strive to change the situation
without engaging in partisan conflicts.
11. Do not live with a vocation that is harmful to humans and
nature. Do not invest in companies that deprive others of their
chance to live. Select a vocation that helps realize your ideal of
12. Do not kill. Do not let others kill. Find whatever means
possible to protect life and prevent war.
13. Possess nothing that should belong to others. Respect the
property of others, but prevent others from profiting from human
suffering or the suffering of other species on Earth.
14. Do not mistreat your body. Learn to handle it with
respect. To preserve the happiness of others, respect the rights
and commitments of others.
In Christianity, Catholic Social Teaching has evolved (since
Pope Leo XIII issued his encyclical Rerum Novarum in 1891) into ten
principles that could form the foundation for GNH. The ten
The Dignity of the Human Person
beings are created in the image of God and, therefore, are endowed
with dignity. This inherent dignity carries with it certain basic
rights and responsibilities which are exercised within a social
The Common Good
the dignity of the human person is affirmed, individuals live in
common with others and the rights of individuals must be balanced
with the wider common good of all. The rights and needs of others
must be always respected.
beings are social by nature and do not exist merely as individuals.
When considering the human community it must be remembered that it
consists of individual and social elements.
principle recognises that society is based on organisations or
communities of people ranging from small groups or families right
through to national and international institutions. As a rule of
social organisation, subsidiarity affirms the right of individuals
and social groups to make their own decisions and accomplish what
they can by their own initiative and industry. A higher level
community should not interfere in the life of a community at a
lower level of social organisation unless it is to support and
The Purpose of the Social Order
social order must uphold the dignity of the human person.
The Purpose of Government
purpose of government is the promotion of the common good.
Governments are required to actively participate in society to
promote and ensure social justice and equity.
and groups must be enabled to participate in society.
The Universal Purpose of Goods
world's goods are meant for all. Although the Church upholds the
right to private property this is subordinate to the right to
common use and the overall common good. There is a social mortgage
on private property.
The Option for the Poor
refers to seeing the world through the eyes of the poor and
standing with the poor in solidarity. This should lead to action
for justice with and on behalf of those who are poor and
The Care of Creation
Earth is God's gift and all species have a rightful place in it.
Humans share this habitat with other kind and have a special duty
to be stewards and trustees of the Earth.
Western Philosophy Kant, Bentham, Mill and more recently Rawls also
argue that a prior moral culture is a criteria for happiness. Why
then is there an urgent need to promote the idea of gross national
happiness? First, there has been an abandonment of happiness as the
ultimate goal to be sought. Happiness has been replaced by goals
such as wealth and Western models of political democracy. If
happiness is the ultimate goal of a government, then democracy must
be viewed holistically, that is, as having four equal component
parts: political democracy, economic democracy, socio-cultural
democracy and ecological democracy. A holistic model of democracy
parallels the four pillars of gross national development.
also requires an alternative model of development. This can be found
in Amatra Sen’s theory of “development as freedom”, a holistic
conceptualization of development that parallels the four pillars of
gross national happiness. Sen’s theory is a critique of mainstream
economics as he emphasizes each person’s capability related to
socio-cultural development, human well-being and quality of life.
capability theory addresses people not as commodities or human
capital who through skill, knowledge and effort can increase
production possibilities, but as persons with lives that they value
in which they have the capacity to make moral choices.
the GNH model the means and nature of economic activities chosen are
as important, if not more so, than their results in terms of
economic growth. Any measurement system for a GNH economy must, for
example, value social and economic contribution of households and
families, free time and leisure. Indicators must not be biased
towards consumption. Finally, a GNH economy would prioritize
ecological biodiversity. Bhutan, as part of the gross national
happiness program, launched a vigorous greening and biodiversity
program. The result is that 26% of the country is dedicated as
wildlife sanctuaries and 72% of the nation remains forested. This is
in stark contrast to poor countries emphasizing policies of economic
growth. Bhutan’s ecological biodiversity program is also directly
responsible for the preservation of indigenous cultures.
national happiness is a holistic model of governance, economic
development and the maintenance of cultural integrity. Once again,
stress must be placed on the fact that culture is not just a
co-equal factor in an adaptive pattern of development; it is the
critical orientation that drives the whole pattern of collective
development. To succeed, gross national happiness needs a citizenry
that has developed a moral maturity that will enable each citizen to
realize that his/her happiness is related to the national happiness.
Bhutan remains a work in progress, but the world needs more national
leaders prophetic enough to state that gross national happiness is
going to be a priority goal.