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Posted on on April 6th, 2012
by Pincas Jawetz (

Population: 2.33 million

Area: 29,204 square miles, about half the size of Indiana

GDP Per Capita: $1,400

Bhutan Navigator

A list of resources about Bhutan as selected by researchers and editors of The New York Times.




The U.N. Happiness Project.

By TIMOTHY W. RYBACK, Deputy Secretary general of the Académie Diplomatique Internationale in Paris.
Published: March 28, 2012

Next Monday, the United Nations will implement Resolution 65/309, adopted unanimously by the General Assembly in July 2011, placing “happiness” on the global agenda.

“Conscious that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal” and “recognizing that the gross domestic product […] does not adequately reflect the happiness and well-being of people,” Resolution 65/309 empowers the Kingdom of Bhutan to convene a high-level meeting on happiness as part of next week’s 66th session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

An impressive array of luminaries will be speaking for this remote Himalayan kingdom. His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales will open the meeting via a prerecorded video missive. The Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz will speak on “happiness indicators,” as will the economist Jeffrey Sachs. The Bhutanese prime minister will represent King Jigme Khesar Namgyel, the reigning Dragon King of the Bhutanese House of Wangchuck. (The kingdom became a constitutional monarchy in 2007.)

For the 32-year-old Dragon King — Bhutan means “land of dragons” in the local Dzongkha language — U.N. Resolution 65/309 represents a global public relations triumph and the realization of a hereditary ambition, initiated by his grandfather 40 years ago, to establish Gross National Happiness (G.N.H.) as an alternate model to Gross National Product (G.N.P.) as a measure of national progress.

“A family should have a good house, have sufficient land if one is a farmer, and have a modest level of labor-saving devices to save precious time used up by excessive physical work,” explains Karma Ura, a leading public intellectual and artist who serves both as adviser to the king at home and as a G.N.H. ambassador abroad.

He has designed the country’s bank notes, denominated in the local currency known as ngultrum or nu, which is tied to the Indian rupee. He has promoted Gross National Happiness at the European Commission in Brussels and will do so again on Monday at the United Nations in New York.

For his services, Karma Ura received a knighthood from the king, which includes the ancient honorific title, dasho, and a sword that Ura bears as proudly as his G.N.H. patriotism. The “true forms of wealth,” he says, are being blessed with a “ravishing environment,” “vibrant health,” “strong communal relationships” and “meaning in life and freedom to free time.”

As a nation, Bhutan makes good on the Dasho Karma Ura formula. Landlocked in the Himalayan highlands between the dual economic juggernauts India and China, the kingdom is among the poorest and least developed countries in the world.

With a population under 800,000, the average income is about $110 per month. Most Bhutanese do not earn enough money to pay taxes, which are only levied on annual incomes in excess of 100,000 ngultrum, or about $2,000. Despite these limitations, Business Week has ranked Bhutan the “happiest” nation in Asia and the eighth happiest in the world.

“The Bhutanese have combined Buddhist spirituality and barefoot economics into a unique model that a lot of other nations can learn from,” observes Jean Timsit, a Paris-based lawyer and artist who provided the funding to publish a handbook on “operationalization of Gross National Happiness,” based on a conference held in Bhutan in 2004. The 750-page tome helped define G.N.H. and leverage it onto the global agenda.

To date, there have also been G.N.H. conferences in Thailand, Canada, the Netherlands and Brazil. According to Timsit, these activities provided the impetus for President Nicolas Sarkozy of France to commission Stiglitz, along with the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and the French economist Jean-Paul Fitoussi, to conduct a study of the “of economic performance and social progress” that included diverse G.N.H. indicators, ranging from walking to reading to the frequency of love making.

“The kind of civilization we build depends on the way we do our accounts quite simply because it changes the value we put on things,” Sarkozy notes in his preface to the report. “And I am not just speaking about market value.”

On Monday, the Bhutanese model for G.N.H. will be showcased on the United Nations agenda in accordance with Resolution 65/309. “The 2nd April High Level Meeting is intended as a landmark step towards adoption of a new global sustainability-based economic paradigm for human happiness and well-being of all life forms to replace the current dysfunctional system that is based on the unsustainable premise of limitless growth on a finite planet,” the Bhutan government Web site asserts.

With the current international crises over Syria and Iran, not to mention ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan, Darfur and the Democratic Republic of Congo, to name but a few, the Bhutanese agenda may not attract as much attention as it may deserve.

“I believe that while Gross National Happiness is inherently Bhutanese, its ideas may have a positive relevance to any nation, peoples or communities — wherever they may be,” King Jigme Khesar Namgyel observed in the preface to the G.N.H. handbook back in 2004, while he was still crown prince.

While Americans may well stake their own nationalist claim to having pioneered the notion of “happiness” as a “self-evident truth” and “inalienable right,” dating back to Thomas Jefferson’s 1776 Declaration of Independence, the Dragon King puts a distinctly Bhutanese point on the matter.

“There cannot be enduring peace, prosperity, equality and brotherhood in this world if our aims are so separate and divergent,” he says, “if we do not accept that in the end we are people, all alike, sharing the earth among ourselves and also with other sentient beings, all of whom have an equal role and stake in the state of this planet and its players.” The Dragon King has spoken. Perhaps it is time for the world to listen.


Following the April 2, 2012 meeting at the UN – in the media we found:

April 3, 2012 | News covering the UN and the world

Measuring happiness is discussed at the UN

The purpose of development must be to create conditions for the pursuit of happiness and not merely boost the gross domestic product, which does not adequately reflect the happiness and well-being of people, Jigmi Thinley, prime minister of Bhutan, told a high-level United Nations meeting Monday. Jeffery Sachs, an economist at Columbia University who co-edited the UN’s First World Happiness Report, said: “The U.S. has had a three time increase of [gross national product] per capita since 1960, but the happiness needle hasn’t budged. Other countries have pursued other policies and achieved much greater gains of happiness, even at much lower levels of per capita income.”

The Washington Post/The Associated Press(4/2),

The New York Times (tiered subscription model)/Dot Earth blog (4/2)

But this is not all of it – though the coverage by the UN Press may be limping, there will be much more coming out in the near future – this because of a stubborn  Bhutan Prime Minister  – The Honorable Jigmi T. Thinley – who has taken very seriously the UN resolution that mandates UN attention to this concept of Gross National Happiness as a way to tackle the need for a new economic paradigm that stresses well-being rather then productivity.

After the April 2nd meeting at the UN that had 600 registrants, 200 of these people, from all over the World, decided to stay on for another two days. Organized in working groups these people prepared content for a plan of action that creates a Bhutan-led Commission to be linked to the UN, and that will promote the concept of Happiness to help achieve the well-being that has eluded so far, because of the World not having really accepted the goal of Sustainability – as Happiness for us when we do what helps us and Future Generations as well.

The resulting material will be taken to the June conference in Rio de Janeiro – the so called RIO+20, but what was deemed even more important – it will be on the Agenda of the UN General Assembly high level meeting in September 2013, when the UN will have to tackle the need for a follow up program after the expiration of the Millennium Development Goals in 2015.

I was part of the group of 200 and our website will have much more to say on these subjects. In the meantime, we repost here the excellent material that our friend Andy Revkin posted in his blog Dot Earth that is connected to The New York Times.


Dot Earth - New York Times blog

12:16 p.m. | Live Updates below |
I’m at the United Nations today for the Bhutan-led “
High Level Meeting on Wellbeing and Happiness: Defining a New Economic Paradigm.” The details are nicely summarized in a recent Op-Ed article by Timothy W. Ryback, the deputy secretary general of the Académie Diplomatique Internationale in Paris. As Ryback explains, the meeting was approved in a U.N. resolution last year recognizing that “the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal” and “the gross domestic product [G.D.P.] does not adequately reflect the happiness and well-being of people….”

I’ll be adding live updates here through the day (see bottom of post). You can get a sense of the conversation by reviewing the online discussion over a draft statement the group plans to adopt.

Bhutan is a tiny, poor, once-isolated Himalayan nation well into the process of moving from monarchy to democracy and opening to the world. Recognizing problems attending a growth-driven economic sprint in other developing countries, in the early 1970’s King Jigme Singye Wangchuck decided to make his nation’s priority not its G.D.P. but its G.N.H., or gross national happiness. The goal ever since has been a mix of economic and social progress shaped to sustain cultural and environmental assets. (There’s a fun explanatory video here.) I first wrote on this concept in 2005, when several dozen Bhutanese leaders, scholars and other citizens, attending a conference in Nova Scotia, described efforts to move from happiness as a concept to a set of policies.

happiness survey
The New York TimesA continuous survey in the United States now gauges day-to-day shifts in feelings of happiness or sadness. (Click for full graphic.)

Today’s meeting (you can track it via theTwitter hashtag #gnh) reflects a global build-up of this notion under other names, as an array of nations and agencies develop systems for measuring well-being that go well beyond what can be measured in dollars. (The Gallup pollsters and the health-care company Healthways have developed a polling project that aims to be a real-time U.S. Well-being Index. I think that a short-term time scale like that — daily polling of 1,000 people — kind of misses the point, but it’s a useful experiment.)

On a different scale is the newly published World Happiness Report, prepared for this conference by economists John Helliwell of the University of British Columbia, Richard Layard at the London School of Economics and Jeffrey D. Sachs of Columbia University (the full document as a pdf file). You can read a short excerpt below.

Other examples include The Better Life Index of the Organization on Economic Cooperation and Development, France’s Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress.

There are heaps of issues here, of course, the first being definitional. Long before the “pursuit of happiness” was enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, and ever since, the term has been debated. What is the good life? As I’ve written before, you can choose the Vegas definition or that of Plato.

As I wrote after the 2005 meeting in Nova Scotia, John Ralston Saul, a Canadian political philosopher, defined happiness as a balance of individual and community interests. “The Enlightenment theory of happiness was an expression of public good or the public welfare, of the contentment of the people…”

The work of Dan Kahan of Yale and the other researchers studying “cultural cognition” has revealed deep, natural divisions among us between what Kahan calls communitarians and individualists (and others call liberals and libertarians). This doesn’t bode well for the notion that nations, or the community of nations, will have an easy time settling on new measures of progress.

But it certainly doesn’t hurt to try, given the extraordinary gulfs on the planet now between haves and have nots, the signs that business as usual will be hard to fit on a finite, increasingly human-shaped planet and the fast-expanding capacity to share and shape ideas in ways that smooth the human journey.

I’ve written a host of posts that explore relevant themes, including my pieces, “Do the Top Billion Need New Goals?” and “How Much is Enough?” An excerpt from that post is worth pasting here:

This kind of examination isn’t just related to personal happiness or, say, environmental damage. John P. Holdren, now President Obama’s science adviser, wrote in “Science and Technology for Sustainable Well-Being” that when you measure human harm in years of life lost (e.g., a child cut down by disease loses decades; a grandmother dying of a stroke at 80 loses a few years), the major afflictions of poverty and affluence do us in at roughly equal rates.

Other relevant pieces can be found in the lengthening string of Dot Earth posts under the tag “wellbeing.”

Here’s an excerpt from the World Happiness Report. Dig in and weigh in:

The realities of poverty, anxiety, environmental degradation, and unhappiness in the midst of great plenty should not be regarded as mere curiosities. They require our urgent attention, and especially so at this juncture in human history. For we have entered a new phase of the world, termed the Anthropocene by the world’s Earth system scientists.

The Anthropocene is a newly invented term that combines two Greek roots: “anthropo,” for human; and “cene,” for new, as in a new geological epoch. The Anthropocene is the new epoch in which humanity, through its technological prowess and population of 7 billion, has become the major driver of changes of the Earth’s physical systems, including the climate, the carbon cycle, the water cycle, the nitrogen cycle, and biodiversity. [More on the Anthropocene.]

The Anthropocene will necessarily reshape our societies. If we continue mindlessly along the current economic trajectory, we risk undermining the Earth’s life support systems – food supplies, clean water, and stable climate – necessary for human health and even survival in some places. In years or decades, conditions of life may become dire in several fragile regions of the world. We are already experiencing that deterioration of life support systems in the drylands of the Horn of Africa and parts of Central Asia.

On the other hand, if we act wisely, we can protect the Earth while raising quality of life broadly around the world. We can do this by adopting lifestyles and technologies that improve happiness (or life satisfaction) while reducing human damage to the environment. “Sustainable Development” is the term given to the combination of human well-being, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability. We can say that the quest for happiness is intimately linked to the quest for sustainable development.



Andrew C. Revkin on Climate ChangeBy 2050 or so, the human population is expected to reach nine billion, essentially adding two Chinas to the number of people alive today. Those billions will be seeking food, water and other resources on a planet where, scientists say, humans are already shaping climate and the web of life. In Dot Earth, which recently moved from the news side of The Times to the Opinion section, Andrew C. Revkin examines efforts to balance human affairs with the planet’s limits. Conceived in part with support from a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, Dot Earth tracks relevant developments from suburbia to Siberia. The blog is an interactive exploration of trends and ideas with readers and experts.

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