Bhutan's Gross National Happiness

Often referred to as the ‘Land of Happiness,’ the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is a stunning and unique Bhuddist nation, with a spectacular landsca... Read more
Bhutan's Gross National Happiness

Often referred to as the ‘Land of Happiness,’ the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is a stunning and unique Bhuddist nation, with a spectacular landscape and beautiful culture. It is a relatively undiscovered destination that has only lightly been touched by tourism in recent years. With low visitor numbers, the country's wonderful gems, such as the gravity defying Tiger’s Nest, and the majestic dzongs, remain unspoiled. Home to some of the world's finest trekking routes and happiest people, this incredible destination is one of the most welcoming places to visit and a paradise for adventure travellers. 


Amid its deep-rooted traditions, Bhutan welcomes modernity and embraces contemporary views. As a commitment to the well-being of its citizens, the Bhutanese government places a huge significance on National Happiness, rather than the conventional measure of success, such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In 2008, the Gross National Happiness (GNH) Index was adopted as the Kingdom’s main development indicator.


What is the GNH Concept?


Gross National Happiness underscores the notion that sustainable development should adopt a comprehensive and holistic approach when considering progress and should assign equal importance to the non-economic factors of well-being and happiness - In short, GNH is a collective measurement of happiness within a nation! By employing it as their main economic indicator, the Bhutanese government and lawmakers should consider the nation’s happiness before implementing any economic policies and laws. 


How is Happiness Measured?


As with any emotion it is almost impossible to describe happiness, and can therefore prove to be quite challenging if your nation’s domestic and international activities are catered to that one word! Fortunately, the Bhutanese government has managed to condense the GNH down to four factors, known as the Four Pillars:



1. Sustainable and Equitable Socio-Economic Development


Sustainable development encourages a restrained approach to consumption, in accordance with genuine needs. As a result, over consumption is frowned upon and mass advertising and billboards are extremely hard to come by; as a traveller it is a great relief to step away from consumerism being forced down your throat!

Equitable Socio-Economic Development is the idea that all economic progress should be distributed equally across society. For example, the daily tourism fee (this covers food, accommodation, transportation, a guide, and most other essentials) is used to finance Bhutan's social sectors. As a result, the benefits of tourism can be felt across the nation via free access to health care and education. While visiting the country it is heartening to know that your money directly contributes to the well-being of the community.

2. Preservation and Promotion of Culture


The second pillar of GNH stands to conserve the nation’s strong set of traditional values and beautiful culture. The tiny, landlocked Kingdom of Bhutan has never been colonised and as a result, still proudly preserves the traditions and beliefs that their ancestors once upheld. A predominantly Buddhist nation, these traditions continue to be practised in beautifully maintained monasteries and temples scattered across the stunning landscape.

The people of Bhutan follow an official code of etiquette and dress code known as Driglam Namzha which promotes the idea of unity across the nation. Throughout their education, students are instilled with traditional values, and art students are taught about the 13 traditional arts and crafts, collectively known as Zorig Chusum. The culture of Bhutan is what makes it such a fantastically unique destination; Its magnificently preserved artefacts and colourful ceremonies and festivals make for a wonderful and fascinating holiday.

3. Environmental Conservation

The third pillar aims to preserve the beautiful natural landscape of which Bhutan takes great pride. It was the world’s first carbon negative country in 2009 and always preserves at least 60% of its land under forest cover. Evidence of this incredible conservation is apparent throughout the nation; Indigenous wildlife, including royal Bengal tigers, elusive snow leopards, graceful black cranes, and elephants, roam freely throughout the country’s five million acres of protected land. 

In Buddhism, “a tree is the provider and nourisher of all life forms, symbolising longevity, health, beauty and even compassion”, which explains why Bhutan are world leaders in planting trees. When flying into Paro International airport, you will be stunned by the vast expanse of lush forests that blanket the landscape.

4. Good Governance


Bhutan became a constitutional democracy in 2008, and since then the world has watched as it has grown into a model of balanced and sustainable development. The fourth pillar is a commitment from the government to consistently work towards improving the well-being and happiness of its citizens, and to prioritise GNH over other economic indicators. 


Has it Been a Success?


Since GNH was implemented as Bhutan’s main development indicator in 2008, the results and opinions on its success have varied. Some critics argue that it is impossible to measure happiness accurately and that it may not be as easily comparable or directly translatable to economic decision-making as GDP. 

That being said, in the last two decades, Bhutan have been able to hold their own on the economic stage - their economy has continued to grow at an impressive rate, and poverty levels dropped from 36% in 2007 to 10% in 2019. They also now lead the way in Environmental Conservation, with a total forest area of 72.5%, and are currently one of three carbon negative countries in the world! 

It truly is delightful visiting a country that puts such a great emphasis on happiness which up until 2022 had the brilliant slogan "Happiness is a Place."





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