Some four decades or so ago, when the youngest monarch in the world then, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, sixteen going on seventeen, challenged the conventional notion of societal progress measured by the highly utilitarian, short-sighted and reductionistic yardstick of Gross Domestic Product, little would anyone have realised that the alternative vision of holistic development called Gross National Happiness would receive such unreserved global attention as it has today.  

Still in his teens, Bhutan’s young King looked at the world and saw it as it really was – sans vision, sans purpose, sans integrity. It was a world consumed by a never-ending jungle warfare fought on the destructive principle of the survival of the fittest recklessly carried onto the social plane. His Majesty realised that this zero-sum game would lead to the tragic dehumanisation of the human race, unsustainable exploitation of the finite resources of our planet earth, and creation of a vastly unjust world. 

Something was not right. The much-touted uni-dimensional development narrative left out many vital elements of a multi-dimensional story of human and societal progress. The clear vision of the Dragon King pierced through the mirage and saw the truth that was always there – that the most passionate desire of all human beings across time and space is happiness, that the most basic needs of mankind are not necessarily material or physical, that there are other non-economic or non-physical elements that give meaning and worth to life. 

The sublime mind of the King cut through the delusion that the more one has, the happier one is! In fact, the level of material possession could often be the cause of much unhappiness and stress. And, an endless cycle of production and consumption, much favoured by the GDP-pundits as the acclaimed producer of revenue or profit, cannot and must not be the goal of life. 

For Bhutan, therefore, His Majesty had a unique vision of development founded on multiple variables that address the diverse claims of life and living within a mutually supportive planetary framework that would secure the well-being of our all-giving Mother Nature, ensure the sustainability of life for succeeding generations of humans and other life-forms in the sea, on land and in the air, consciously build and nurture a culture of justice and equity for all members of the society, mindfully and wisely preserve and live out the virtues and values of our rich cultural heritage, and honourably promote good governance as an instrument of public service.   

Chastised and chastened by the inescapable consequences of an unsustainable, exploitative model of development that has called the deafening tune hitherto, a more mellowed world has discovered that humble Bhutan’s all-embracing model of human progress is a precious balm to ‘still the tooth that nibbles at the soul’.    

Bhutan’s inclusive, sustainable and mindful development vision of Gross National Happiness has been welcomed in many lands across the world and it has inspired individuals and institutions to do some deep soul-searching as they look at the sorry state of the human predicament. The United Nations General Assembly having endorsed Bhutan’s proposal to make ‘pursuit of happiness a fundamental goal of development’, March 20th has thus been declared the International Day of Happiness by the world body. Numerous institutions, clubs and foundations as well as academic programmes have been established around the world dedicated to the study and understanding of Bhutan’s vision of holistic development. 

The World Happiness Foundation, founded by multi-gifted pre-eminent humanitarian worker, Dr. Lius Gallardo, in tandem with allied institutions, for instance, is dedicated to building ‘the most comprehensive global platform that hosts and amplifies the leaders, individuals, and institutions committed to realizing a world where people are free, conscious and happy.’ 

Built on the core values of Discovery, Connection, Gratitude, and Compassion, the Foundation hopes to create an environment for 10 billion happy people by 2050, by engaging some 10 million educators, eight million health professionals, and seven million business and government leaders. This works out to 400 people per change-maker in the next 30 years. 

This week of March 18th through March 23rd witnesses a multi-faceted World Happiness Fest under the auspices of the World Happiness Foundation and it will host the largest and the most accessible digital summit on well-being and happiness on the planet. It will feature an estimated 160,000 attendees, 150 well-being experts, and 120 workshops, streaming live from some 80 cities around the world.  

The Foundation is supported by a Board of Advisors. Its guiding impulse is be.

As we celebrate the International Day of Happiness, we pay our deepest tributes to the sacred fount of the all-embracing vision of Gross National Happiness, revered Druk Gyal Zhipa, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, for this precious gift to Bhutan and to the world. 

We also offer our gratitude to all men and women of goodwill around the world who are working tirelessly to advance the cause of happiness and well-being among all peoples and sentient beings in all realms. 

This special day inspired by the sublime vision of one of the greatest statesmen of modern times, it is my prayer that even as the world looks upon our country as a rare oasis of hope in a visionless world, we do our own share of soul-searching as a nation and as a people. 

Gross National Happiness, like so many other vital national projects, is still work-in-progress. It is incumbent upon us to align our thought and action with the national vision – as the government, bureaucracy, parliament, constitutional bodies, political parties, apolitical institutions, the private sector, civil society, as individuals and common citizens. We could indeed be more deserving of the unconditional care and compassion of our beloved People’s King.

When the rubber meets the road, the well-being of our society and our nation depends upon the attitude and action of each one of us. For surely, as I am, so is my nation.

May the Almighty bless our precious Tsa-wa-sum and peace, happiness and well-being prevail on earth forever.

Contributed by 

Thakur S Powdyel

Former Minister of Education