GNH: The largest ever conference on Gross National Happiness held in Bhutan, comprising of more than 110 experts in various fields and around 500 international participants, begins today in Paro.

The conference is a tribute to His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo on the occasion of His Majesty’s 60th birth anniversary.

His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo coined GNH in the 1970s when he said: “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product”.

During the conference, 116 experts from academia, politics, business and civil society, coming from 48 different countries will share insights and experiences with international and Bhutanese participants, and engage in discussions with the audience.

“The speakers are each innovative leaders in their own right of creative, determined, and thoughtful interventions to advance GNH in their own contexts,” a Centre for Bhutan Studies (CBS) press release says.

“Alongside intellectual interchange, the conference itself aims to be an experience of GNH,” it is added. “They will discover intellectual community, of course, but also exercise and strengthen commonality of purpose,” it is pointed out. “Thus, through the formal sessions and the setting and cultural activities, this 2015 GNH conference aims to provide an opportunity for policy representatives, policy makers, practitioners and academicians to share experiences on translating wellbeing and happiness frameworks into practice.”

The conference, which is open to the public, is being held on the grounds of the Ugyen Pelri palace in Paro.

“The exchange between scholars and practitioners with diverse backgrounds promises to bring very fruitful discussions that will benefit Bhutan and international participants alike” said CBS President Dasho Karma Ura.

In a dinner reception hosted last evening, the Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay pointed out that that GNH is gaining momentum in other countries and that a global paradigm shift is underway. He said that the combined global effort of official and grassroots actions can pressure decision makers to create policies that better serve communities.

“This conference is one of the many ways of cultivating GNH activities,” he said. “And the fact that so many of you are here today also reflects a mutual recognition that this is the moment to create change,” he added.

“Together, we must work to build societies that are sustainable in every way and offer a better quality of life for everyone. We must lead by example. And we must cheer one another when we are tired or discouraged.”

Lyonchoen also spoke about the latest GNH survey and how the government will address some of its findings.

Referring to the latest GNH survey findings, in which the GNH Index has increased to 0.756 from 0.743 in 2010, Lyonchoen said as this was only the second survey, it is not yet known whether this is a good or bad rate. “We are still learning what is a ‘good’ growth rate of GNH Index!,” he said.

The findings have revealed that 20 percent of Bhutanese saw increases in access to public services: electricity, clean water, and health care, among others. Per capita income has also increased and instances of human-wild life conflict is less.

However, the Prime Minister noted that there have been some negative developments such as declining spirituality and a rise in negative emotions like anger, jealously, and frustration. Lyonchoen said that he is committed to implementing strategies to address this. “We have the wisdom in our Monastic Body to work with the Ministry of Education to renew our values education, so children learn spiritual skills and emotional intelligence early on,” he said.

The survey also shows that 17 percent of Bhutanese feel that driglam namzha has weakened. Lyonchoen said that he will revisit the education curriculum and require graduates and trainees to take an intensive module on Dzongkha, philosophy and culture. “Yet in the end our values have to be renewed with authenticity and from within, in our homes and communities,” he said.

On decreasing community vitality, such as declining volunteerism and weaker social links, Lyonchoen said that this is a “plaintive cry for attention to fight social isolation both among our elders left behind in rural areas and new urban migrants facing loneliness, and I am committed to raising this point strongly with our local leaders.”

The survey found that the people’s satisfaction with the government’s performance was much less than in 2010. Lyonchoen attributed this to “divisive electoral politics”, explaining that voters of the opposing party may have poorly rated the present government’s performance. He pointed out that there has been a sharp increase in the government’s actual delivery in services.

Lyonchoen said that such obstructive behaviours have to be removed before they become embedded. “I will open a discussion of what it would mean to carry out our debates and democratic exchanges, and even our electoral campaigns, with compassion, and wisdom,” he said. “From the GNH Indicators I can see clearly that Bhutanese care about how government performs, that they are troubled, and they are keeping track.”

The three-day conference begins at 8:30am today.

The conference is being organized by CBS and its international partners.

Gyalsten K Dorji