Bhutan's New Prime Minister Says Happiness Isn't Everything | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

NPR : News

Filed Under:

Bhutan's New Prime Minister Says Happiness Isn't Everything

Sad but true, Bhutan's Gross National Happiness index is not immune to politics.

Much has been made in recent years of the measure preferred by the tiny Buddhist kingdom over such cold and utilitarian Western-style metrics as gross domestic product.

The term "gross national happiness" was coined in 1972 by Bhutan's former King Jigme Singye Wangchuk, and the idea of focusing on the less-quantifiable measure of happiness to determine the health of a nation has steadily gained currency among trendier academic and policy circles.

Canada, France and Britain have jumped on the happiness bandwagon by adding measures of citizen happiness to their official national statistics.In recent years, Bhutan's (now former) Prime Minister Jigme Thinley and its Secretary of Gross National Happiness, Karma Tshiteem, have attended numerous conferences and talks at such venues as the World Economic Forum, Seattle's Green Festival and a gathering in Vermont, where Tshiteem explained to NPR that his country was "more focused on creating the right conditions that can lead people to fulfilling, and hopefully, happy lives."

But being a global champion of the Bhutanese ideal of happiness didn't translate into votes at home, and last month, Thinley lost at the polls, a defeat that was "attributed partly to his aggressive international public relations campaign to promote GNH at the expense of domestic needs," according to Business Insider.

Thinley's successor, Tshering Tobgay, has already signaled he will step back from promoting GNH, both as a measure of success in his own country and as an object of international diplomacy.

Bhutan's problems, as Tobgay points out, range from a "ballooning debt" that is barely sustainable, to unemployment and growing corruption. As a result of the problems, some in Bhutan have begun referring to the GNH derisively as "government needs help", the BBC reports.

Tobgay, 47, says he supports the notion that gross national product isn't the "be-all and end-all of development", but he says, if the government "[spends] a disproportionate amount of time talking about GNH rather than delivering basic services, then it is a distraction."

With the GNH's reassessment at home, he is also reconsidering its value as an export, too.

Asked whether his government would continue promoting Gross National Happiness abroad, Tobgay said: "I believe it's not the job of the government to do that."

A study by National Geographic discovered that the world's happiest places had some basic things in common, such as freedom from worry about getting healthcare and education, as well as a sense of equality — things that Tobgay would argue are missing in Bhutan.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Reports: Fashion Icon Oscar De La Renta Dies After Long Cancer Fight

Fashion designer Oscar de La Renta, 82, died Monday after a decade-long battle with cancer, The New York Times and other media outlets report.
NPR

Sandwich Monday: The Primanti Bros. Pitts-burger

For this week's Sandwich Monday, we try a sandwich from the famous Primanti Bros. of Pittsburgh.
NPR

Close Iowa Senate Race Could Come Down To How Women Vote

Joni Ernst, who's an officer in the Iowa Army National Guard, presents herself as a mother, soldier, leader. But many women aren't responding to that.
NPR

Tunisia's Emerging Tech Sector Hampered By Old Policies

When Tunisia's young people protested in 2011, they had one key demand: jobs. Now, despite new political leadership, that demand remains unmet — even in tech, the sector that offers the most promise.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.