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

As Summer Winds Down, Wistful Dreams Of A 'Lost Estate'

The scent of fresh pencils is in the air, and homework assignments are around the corner. In honor of back-to-school season, author Alexander Aciman recommends The Lost Estate by Henri Alain-Fournier.
NPR

A Food Crisis Follows Africa's Ebola Crisis

Food shortages are emerging in the wake of West Africa's Ebola epidemic. Market shelves are bare and fields are neglected because traders can't move and social gatherings are discouraged.
WAMU 88.5

McDonnell Corruption Trial: Former Gov Defends Relationship With Jonnie Williams

On the stand today, the former Virginia governor defended his relationship with the businessman at the heart of the trial, saying it was appropriate.
NPR

Coming Soon To A Pole Near You: A Bike That Locks Itself

Cyclists may soon have a convenient way to discourage bike thieves, thanks to new designs that use parts of the bikes themselves as locks.

Leave a Comment

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