Bhutan's GNH concept can be a guiding light for South Asia

As Bhutan celebrates 50 years of introducing Gross National Happiness to the world, it has had a sizable impact on the political, social, environmental, and economic aspects of Bhutan. It is time for the world to give the concept more importance and conduct research on it.

Nishali Ranasinghe Dec 26, 2022
Bhutan's GNH concept (Representational Photo)

Gross National Happiness, or GNH, was considered to be a utopian concept until the world realized that it has the ability to solve almost all Human Security and Human Development-related issues in the world. The capability of GNH in balancing economic development and human development is a specialty that can be used by the world, especially the South Asian region, in overcoming its adversities.

The notion of GNH was presented in 1972 by the Bhutanese king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, as a means of finding ‘Real Happiness’ in human lives. The base of this concept was laid by the teachings of Mahayana Buddhism and Bhutanese cultural values which advocate a simple lifestyle, thereby attaining inner peace or happiness. Bearing four main pillars namely, Good Governance, Sustainable and Equitable Socio-Economic Development, Preservation and Promotion of Culture, and Environmental Conservation, it mainly focuses on all the aspects of human life. Furthermore, these four pillars are further magnified into nine domains where the components of Human Development and Human Security can be witnessed.

Accordingly, GNH was presented as an alternative to GDP which aims for higher progress than the economic growth of a country. The balance between material and non-material development, and the multi-dimensional and interdependent nature of GNH are key features that distinguish GNH from GDP as a measure of a country’s progress (GNH Centre Bhutan, 2022).

Why South Asia needs GNH

South Asia is a region that consists of eight countries which include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. This region is famously known for its cultural, religious, and ethnic diversity. Thus, the prominence they give to their unique belief and value system is deeply rooted and can be seen through their political, economic, and social system.

GNH is a notion that aims to balance economic development and human development without compromising the values and beliefs of a nation. GNH measures the quality of its development in a more holistic way and believes that the beneficial development of human society takes place when material and spiritual development occurs side by side (GNH Centre Bhutan, 2022). Therefore, this makes GNH a vision that can be moulded into any system in a country, especially in this part of the world where the roots of culture and spirituality are deeply inherited.

Moreover, South Asia battles with many traditional and nontraditional security threats that obstruct people from fulfilling their needs and necessities. Issues such as poverty, environmental degradation, terrorism, ethnic conflicts, religious extremism, water security issues, and drug, weapon, and human trafficking are rampant in the region which ultimately violates the rights of the people living in this region. Adding to the list, corruption, ill- governance, misogyny, and classism also pave the way for more complex grievances causing trouble in the areas of Human Development, Human Security, and Human Rights of a person which can grow out to be a national issue. This will ultimately transform into a regional and a global matter which can jeopardize the peace and stability of the world. 

For instance, the current food security crisis in Sri Lanka has already affected the economic, environmental, health, political, personal, and community security in the country. The growing inflation rate has frustrated the people as their needs and necessities are difficult to be fulfilled. Over a period of time, this crisis might later be turned into a violent conflict. Even though the crisis occurs in Sri Lanka, this can create a domino effect in the other states in the region due to the interconnectedness and interdependency of one another. The instability and insecurity it causes will eventually affect the world.

Measuring people's happiness and well-being

Therefore, GNH is a vision that can be used in this region due to the transboundary nature of issues. GNH simply analyzes the happiness and well-being of its people on a different level and can be used as a framework to guide a country in constructing and implementing policies and projects. Moreover, every country in the south Asian region has its own color and this concept can be utilized according to that particular country's aims and interests.  

As Bhutan celebrates 50 years of introducing Gross National Happiness to the world, it has had a sizable impact on the political, social, environmental, and economic aspects of Bhutan. It is time for the world to give the concept more importance and conduct research on it. The idea of GNH can be operated as an index to measure the well-being of people and assist policymakers to construct policies that would enhance the quality of life without compromising the cultural values and environment of a nation. 

(The writer is an Attorney at Law and an Undergraduate (Reading) in the Department of International Relations, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka. Views are personal. She can be contacted at

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