GNH, American Dream and Real Life Part-1

Please forgive me: I’m a Hungarian ‘chilip’ who doesn’t permanently live in Bhutan and I’m not a GNH expert. However, I dare to offer some additional thoughts to the healthy discussion provoked by Dr David L Luechauer in The Bhutanese hoping to contribute to Bhutan’s future development.

Some of you may think I am trying to defend GNH and Bhutan against critics. This is not the case, because GNH or Bhutan doesn’t need my defense and protection. Personally, I can’t see any problem with Dr David criticizing the GNH practice without knowing the concept well while relying on his personal and limited experiences. I keep hearing from my Bhutanese friends that he probably did a good service to Bhutan when raising some valid points. He may even be right saying that widespread domestic practice should have predated any extensive international promotion. I can’t really judge.

What I know for sure though is that GNH provides inspiration to many people outside Bhutan, including my friends in Europe, who explore alternative ways of organizing our societies. I say ‘inspiration›’which doesn’t mean that we would like to take GNH into our countries as it is. No, we want to study the concept, see the results and challenges in Bhutan, and then figure out what we can learn from it and how we can apply the findings. Doing so, we also hope to help Bhutan improve and apply GNH.

In my article, I hope to add new dimensions to the conversation by focusing on three things: 1) the universal gap between theory and practice; 2) proposed solutions to Bhutan by Dr David and their viability; and 3) the business sector’s role in further developing Bhutan.


The theory vs. practice gap

I don’t know Dr David, but he may have fallen into the trap several ‘chilips’ did before: prior to his arrival, in his mind, he may have constructed his own Shangri-la or Happiness State with ever-smiling citizens governed by an enlightened policy called GNH. Then, he got disappointed when he found a real country with real people struggling with real everyday problems. And then he concluded that his home country is still much better.

When I was 18 years old I fell into the same trap, but my constructed Shangri-la was the United State. I was living in Hungary in Eastern Europe under a ‘light communist’ regime and for my birthday I received a Big Mac from one of my best friends. He queued for hours in front of the first newly opened McDonald›s in the country and I still remember the thrill I had just looking at this small piece of food on the dinner table. It was a precious sacred object, much more than a sandwich. For me, it was the American Dream itself.

This happened in 1988 and two years later we had democratic elections and open market and later I got my dream job at Levi’s, the American jeans company. Today, I laugh when I recall the Big Mac story. Since then, I have grown up and learned to see the difference between the American Dream and a hamburger. In other words, I know the difference between marketing and reality. I know that the American Dream, which is globally marketed by brand builders, politicians, Hollywood and many US citizens, is not fully practiced in its home country neither. I›ve been there and I›ve seen it. It›s a political slogan or a well-promoted philosophy, if you wish. Just like the ‘Free Market Economy’ which doesn’t exist anywhere due to government’s intervention, protection and subsidies, big business monopolies, and human nature.

And this discrepancy between a well-rounded concept and rugged reality naturally applies to GNH, too. And that’s fine. I am afraid that we, adults, have to accept that GNH and the American Dream are both aspirational concepts of great minds which are marketed by talented political leaders at home and abroad, while imperfectly implemented anywhere.

Considering this, one may ask how come that US politicians and Dr David are promoting the concept of American Dream or Free Market Economy or Equality or Democracy across the globe if they are not fully practiced at home? How about gun violence, crime, unemployment, homelessness, obesity, environmental degradation, stress, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, debt, high military spending, increasingly limited social mobility, money-driven politics, anti-market government subsidies, stagnating middle-class income, and growing gap between super-rich and the rest of the US?  The US is no longer what it used to be. Shouldn›t they just get their own house in order first before trying to sell their concepts to the world?

You might be surprised, but I think they shouldn’t. I think Americans and Europeans – including Dr David – have the right to promote whatever values, concepts, ideas and philosophies they think are right – regardless of their implementation. It can be the American Dream, Free Market Economy, Democracy, The Invisible Hand, Individualism, GNP, Well-being, Christianity, Human Rights, Peace&Love, Tree Hugging, Philanthropy or Superman. These constructions of the mind are all imperfect when practiced, but still it’s worth globally debating their viability and implementation.

On the other hand, all men and women are born equal, not only Americans or Europeans. If Dr David has the right to promote his values and criticize those of others – and I strongly believe he has – others have the same right, too. We all have the right to explore alternatives or adjustments to the American Dream, Baker&McKenzie, IMF, Hollywood, or Wall Street without immediately being labeled as communist, Marxist, fundamentalist environmentalist, anti-capitalist, or anti-Superman.

And I believe that GNH as a concept is potentially one of the many viable alternatives to our current global socio-economic system in crisis. Again: it’s worth discussing it as a concept globally among many others even in more developed countries regardless of its implementation in Bhutan.

But, as Dr David rightly suggested, we shouldn’t get stuck in discussing philosophy too much, but let’s pull up our sleeves and get to work.


On Dr David’s proposed solutions to Bhutan

Going beyond his personal insights about GNH implementation and Bhutan’s economic and social challenges such as alcoholism, I reviewed what Dr David was actually proposing to the Bhutanese and I had a hard time to find his solutions either original or applicable or fair. Some seem to make perfect sense like hard work or better public toilets or curbing alcoholism. Others are less convincing. Given our limited time, I just want to comment on some of his controversial proposals:


1. His proposal: Bhutanese should get to hard work to build the economy and infrastructure.


I think Bhutanese farmers work hard enough to be appreciated. I think Bhutanese craftsmen work hard enough to be appreciated. I think Bhutanese doctors, forest engineers, teachers, shoe cleaners, tourist guides, taxi drivers, etc all work hard enough to be appreciated. Constructing roads, buildings, and hydropower stations in Bhutan is mostly done by Indian companies with Indian workers. They have the technology and willing manpower Bhutan lacks, so they are contracted to build. I don’t see it as a problem, if properly managed.

Building an economy takes not only hard work, but time, money, natural resources and favorable trading opportunities. And protection against cheap and or better foreign products until the domestic industry is strong enough to compete. This complex process requires much more than the ‘Just do it’ attitude.


To be continued


The writer used to work for Levi Strauss and he’s currently an independent Corporate Responsibility Advisor in Europe and a volunteer business coach in Bhutan. He’s also founding president of the Hungarian Bhutan Friendship Society. He can be contacted at

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  1. Another chilip bragging on GNH again.Please enough is enough.STOP TB,STOP TL and STOP   valcsicsak zoltan or whoever you are.You are saying that we should not be discussing too much but you are discussing too much here.Just throw your theory and suggestions into a dustbin and geat real and start working.

    I am just tired of these chilips BIG MOUTHs

  2. Now, that’s what I call a balanced opinion.. This chillip seems to make a lot more sense than Dr. David. Cant wait to read the rest of his opinions!

  3. The Hungarian chillip had attempted to balance his opinion between theory and practice of GNH. It is a good food for thought and gives us an opportunity to ponder and analyze the so called gap. Theory without practice may not mean anything and it would be in the interest of the philosophy if the latter can catch up with the former sooner than later.

  4. Glorified Clerk

    Much more sensible and balanced than Dr. David’s article. But some credit must go to Dr. David also for starting the critical debate on GNH.

  5. It is good when someone can comment. We need not agree, but we can make our analysis.  

  6. The problem with GNH is that those who ardently promote it are those who have the most comfortable life; and they do not wish others to be comfortable but rather be satisfied with what they have. And this to me is the most hypocritical stand—worst than Mao Zedong saying that religion is a poison so you should not believe in it. What a world we are living in?? -everywhere hypocrites.

    • You hit the bull’s eye. Come and live my life and then you will realize that GNH is not meant for me at this juncture of my life. Once when i get to ride the public land cruiser, then i will start promoting GNH too as aggressively as any other hypocrites.

  7. Thank you very much for very good insight and perspective on the GNH. This is another good review. I gotta your main point and wanted to share here that you at least could hold of his tail and say wait a minute! I have got to remind you “you got to look at the mirror first to say that i am a smart guy”. We ought to learn from you guys and make better decision. It is in our hand dear fellow citizens.

  8. To Reporter, don’t curse chilips too much. Thank him. Otherwise you could not have even read and understood what he wrote and then replying in the very language of the chilip, and not in dzongkha. Zayang bangchu na za, awa yang bangchu na ma tang sei…

    • Yes Mr.Yeawhynot,you seem to be the authority of GNH.If you have understood everything about GNH,than write it here.Don’t brag like that chilip again.You might be bragging because you have GNH in a materialistic terms.

      And for your kind info.this is my opinion.And you,don’t come on this forum for personal attack.If you have a genuine concern just write yours views or GTE LOST from here.

  9. “GNH can be interpreted in the way one wants”. This is proven by the writings of both the David and Zoltan. This is why world seems to care less about this GNH philosophy.

  10. GNH differ from person to person, community, society, and nation. for some community, where there is dire shortage of water, providing safe and adequate water might be GNH… for some country like USA slow growth or complete break down of Chinese economy might be GNH. GNH is at embryonic stage and we need diverse ideas and personal experience to make it applicable for all the people….. USA or China…. GNH possibly help countries like USA to be happy when China or India develop fast then expected. When dictators are toppled down……………………..

  11. The "TRUE" Bhutanese

    I think Mr. Zoltan is living in the real world. For someone coming from Levi’s, this indeed is a profound and balanced view. Because almost everything has a positive and a negative side to it, providing a balanced argument is important, irrespective of what stand you take at the end. I think many would want to take your suggestions/critique about GNH positively for the simple fact that you seem to be aware of ground realities and that you seem to appreciate the good while highlighting the bad. Presentations and tone matter. I must say you are more than an academician, and I await your next article. Cheers!

  12. sharchokpa zalla


    • The Bhutanese publish these articles so that people can be offered varied opinions on an important issue. After all, a good newspaper is one that gets a nation talking to itself. Nothing wrong with that.

  13. Very balanced view. He really got it then any of us average bhutanese in this forum. Average Bhutanese here jump to conclusion to get GNH results within 5 yrs term, not trying to reserach oneslef in depth.

  14. I will take Hungarian Chilips take on GNH any day than Dr DLs.

  15. David L. Luechauer

    Kudos Mr. Zoltan.  A pleasure reading your remarks.  Even more awesome that Bhutanese is willing to show both sides of the story.  There is only thing that I totally disagree with and will have to go back and read all the articles that were written … BUT .. I have never stated nor concluded that USA or any other country was superior to Bhutan.  In fact, I have studiously attempted to avoid any such positions or render any such judgments.  I merely attempted to indicate, at one point, that there were GDP countries who were practicing GNH principles – indeed even legislating them – better than Bhutan itself.  Finally, my expectations for Bhutan were far from it being perfect but even you will have to conceded that is how the country is marketing itself.  Nonetheless, you have done a nice job presenting the case.  Thank you for your contribution to the dialogue….. David

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