‘GNH in itself is not elitist’

President of the Center of Bhutan Studies and one of the key architects behind Gross National Happiness, Dasho Karma Ura answers some critical questions on GNH in an interview with The Bhutanese. 

1. Dr David L. Luechauer in a series of three interview articles has raised some fundamental questions about how GNH is currently being understood and implemented. Your overall views on his articles and ideas?

Dasho- Online responses to David were counted. They are of uneven quality: some are snorting tension-release outbursts, others are thoughtful. But if we disregard the differing weights of arguments, among the 97 remarks, 58% were broadly in favor of David’s arguments, 34% were against and 8% were neutral. David’s views on GNH are not fundamental in a conceptual sense, but he opens contemporary issues for meaningful discussion. Overall, his interviews encapsulate three views: his first view is broadly on education. On education, David’s interview relates a lot to his lived experiences in Gaeddu College of Business Studies (GCBS). What truly worries parents is that situation in GCBS could reflect rising disarray among staff, students and graduates in others institutions. There are thousands of Bhutanese graduates enrolled privately and living vulnerably off-campus, mostly in private commercial oriented Indian colleges, where discipline and academic standard are not demanding. I need not spell out the consequences.

His second view is on interface between GNH and Bhutan’s public policies and programmes; and his third view is on GNH and its dissemination within and abroad. As someone outside the structure of Bhutanese institutions, he analyzes things in a more forthright manner.

What each of us hears depends on ones social location, which is a node in the flow of biased information; hence we must always extend our ears in unaccustomed directions. We hobnob, meet, and compare most among our own professional groups and pursue interests that may become too sectional and sectoral. Inbreeding of views can be reinforced institutionally. Various agencies hold their annual conferences with ‘marchang’ fanfare and at considerable costs to the public. But outside voices (now I am not talking about David) are hardly invited and heard in these conferences. One can create and perpetuate echo-chambers and get trapped in the spiral of confirmatory bias, where you hear yourself, or what you like.

There is a positive role for outside voices in finding acceptable decisions and directions. When a group, whether politicians, judges, bureaucrats, or corporate management imposes its voice citing technical procedures over others in an adversarial way, the decision may be carried, but moral consensus is not achieved. Involving many voices generate consensus.

By the same token, I will justify later how Bhutan’s GNH view, as that of an outsider; can be useful abroad in catalyzing discussion about global change.


2. What is your view of the criticism that GNH in its current form has become a highly technical and intellectual subject beyond the grasp of the ordinary masses?

Dasho- People can live without technical knowledge of a certain thing. You can certainly carry on without knowing how a mobile phone works. An intellectual subject deals with much broader ideas affecting public thinking. By definition, an intellectual’s reach of understanding society is greater than that of a technician or professional.

On the question whether GNH has become a technical or intellectual subject, like other indicators, the statistical work to estimate GNH indicators is a bit technical. But it is not inaccessible; any graduate making effort for a few days will grasp its plain statistical work. Same is true with national accounts behind GDP. These estimates do not require smart people to understand; if they are not understood by interested laymen, those who are communicating it are at fault; they need to be better communicators.

GNH is ‘anti-intellectual’ in that everyone can participate in its discussion and contribute to its knowledge creation. Unlike any subject, every person speaks with authority on what makes her happy or miserable. We think on our own a lot about happiness – whether we can purge all traces of anxiety, whether relationships are more important than possessions, whether inner cultivation is more important than external conditions. Broadly every person knows how happy she feels, as an emotion. This universal ‘self-knowledge’ is beginning to take shape as a new science of happiness influencing other disciplines.

Many online participants repeat that an individual’s happiness is subjective because what causes her happiness differs from yours. The statement implies that nothing further can be done with regard to this most important human aspiration. But the statement begs research to shed more light on reliable findings on the relative causes of happiness, the variations in the cultural construction of happiness, and the extent of differences in happiness.

Having found researched answers, the next task is to improve the desirable conditions for all to be happier. Some conditions will have to be improved relying on government actions, others on individual behavior, and yet others on NGOs, communities and other institutions. Doing all of these will require both courage and brilliance because going forward into uncharted policy areas involves by and large innovation and creativity, not duplication. Happiness is subjectively experienced as all things are but it is collectively generated. Hitherto, public policies have had a passive role in promoting happiness. Happiness defined appropriately, will be recognized as an important basis of public policy in the way it has not been so far.


3. Critics accuse GNH of being an elitist philosophy more suited for elites who do not have to worry about the daily struggle for bread and butter. Your thoughts?

Dasho- The main purpose of GNH research is to find where, how and why some people are unhappy. This is not only central to GNH, but makes GNH highly relevant to policy. The reasons for unhappiness can be both material and non-material. The supposition that the privileged are necessarily always happier is a myth as much as the poor are constantly gloomy.

With respect to bread and butter, only a very small fraction of Bhutanese are unhappy because they have to struggle for their daily rice and chilly-curry. There is no evidence of Bhutanese who languish in food destitution, although there is of poor nutrition. But again, addictive sugary, salty and fatty food affects the wealthy as much as inadequate nutrition affects those near the food poverty line.

GNH in itself is not elitist, quite the opposite. Inbuilt in GNH index are incentives for the policies to decrease the number of unhappy people. The property of the GNH index is so designed that it does not rise by making the conditions better for the already very happy people. But attaining sufficiency level over a wide variety of conditions to make life fulfilling is absolutely crucial for happiness and welfare, and that is stressed in GNH theory.

Almost all policies and laws have been clearly for common man’s benefits. The widespread and rapid development attests to that. The attention to spreading benefits to all has been possible due to the singular leadership of the monarchy.  Even though it is a two party system now, wise politicians are aware that they should never overplay their hands least polarization gets entrenched among three lakh voting citizens. Given the challenging geopolitical situation, the monarchy should, and will, remain the single most effective force that will bridge any potential fragmentation and thwart national security challenges. If Bhutanese people do not ignore history, they will understand that the monarchy becomes equally important in a democracy.

It was earlier easier to frame inclusive policies and laws because of a somewhat homogenous farming people. Land grants, disaster relief and humanitarian scholarships given to ordinary people by His Majesty are sparkling examples. Policies and programmes in water supply, health, education, rural electrification, and farm roads are splendidly admirable schemes funded officially. As a citizen, I am truly proud of all these publicly funded services although they can be made no doubt more expenditure efficient.

But faults can develop if we do not maintain equity as a principle yardstick. The situation can become complicated with the growth of commercial groups whose conceptions of the future are not the same as that of the rest. The rise of domestic and foreign companies who can compel policies to favor profits over ordinary Bhutanese people add to the complexity.  Policy makers can shape regressive policies and laws, intentionally or unknowingly. Sometimes it can be due to precious little analysis of their regressive impact. Good intention is necessary but not sufficient for good policies. Analytic capabilities are needed to foresee their consequences over the long term, i.e., beyond the horizon of, say, 15 years.

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  1. “With respect to bread and butter, only a very small fraction of Bhutanese are unhappy because they have to struggle for their daily rice and chilly-curry. ”

    I don’t agree with this above statement of Mr.Karma Ura.

    How can he say only a small handful of people are unhappy because they have to struggle for daily rice and chilli-curry.Does he forgot that more than 70% Bhutanese are farmers and have to struggle daily or is he just trying to mislead or he could is a GNH sycophant.
    More than 75% of Bhutan are covered by Mountains where all most all the settlement are rural based.And people has to travel a day just to get a treatment for a minor cut leaving their field’s work.A child has to travel almost 3-4 hours to reach a school .A Bhutanese citizen has to travel 5-6 hours to go to a Dungkhag Office to do his/ her work.
    Now how can he say it is just a handful.Leaving in Thimphu and considering that rest of Bhutan is like Thimphu will not do any good I guess.

    Let mr.karma Ura go to Laya and live for a week and get the real test of GNH.Good Luck

  2. GNH is meant to increase unhappy people- who are these unhappy lots? how do you know if someone is unhappy?…scientist so far have not invented a device to check happiness level.

    • I am one of the opinions ” when my stomac is still empty and under the open sky what good is your GNH?

  3. Great article

  4. A man who blows the Trumpet too much and gets the credit for nothing but red scarf.He is satisfied himself and puts down the welfare of poor and unhappy  people(82%).

    • Dear Dragpo,  I hope you might be knowing who honoured him red scarf? And also for what purpose? Do you even try  to say or for that matter consider even  HM the Kings are simply blowing their own trumpets…let me remind you, mr. Dragpo, if u are not aware who offered him red scarf. Its none  other than our HM the 4th King Jigme Singye Wangchuck. Therefore, when some body’s hard work and dedication is being recognized by one of the most revered persons in the world, HM JSW, I think it would be wise to respect HM’s wise decision to have recognized rare personalities with versatile caliber in this country. Just appreciate some one’s achievements if one is not able achieve like some one. Thank you!

  5. His answers are as vague as the concept of GNH.

    • You would find vague cos you must be reading GNH related article for the first time. One would have to invest so many times and energy to grasp the concept of GNH by reading stacks of literature. Otherwise, one would be confused and will live in the world of confusion. 

      • Invest what for many times to grasp GNH? I think you are even more confused person…

        • I am suggesting to invest major chunk of one’s time and energy in studying the  GNH concept and philosophy. So that one would be able to grasp the small portion of the totality. By doing so one may give so many thoughts before actually trying to make unconscious comments. Its a question that needs to be understood that who is confused. But its an apparent evidence that for sure one is confused and its not other than yourself. Cos you didn’t even understand the need to invest time to study the concept as suggested above.

  6. Brogpa(Nomad)

    As and when Bhutanese soceity becomes free of hiprocrisy and deceit. GNH will sprout by itself. All Bhutanese farmers are mentally and physically prepared to nurture the root of GNH but politicians, bearucrates and business tycoons must equally prepare in weeding out corruption first. The corruption situation in Bhutan as reported by media houses are alarming and we general people are now thrown into big confusion after introduction of democrasy and we still prefer monarchy if the trend goes on as it is today.

  7. Glorified Clerk

    I don’t buy the idea that democracy is always equated with corruption. How can we say that there was no corruption in Bhutan when there was no democracy.

  8. This is exactly why the pundits are killing real GNH. A simple question is answered in a boring, full-of-fluff roundabout way, making nothing clear at the end. This pseudo-intellectual crap could be replaced by straight answers with good examples. I don’t agree with DL’s views, but prefer his way of answering questions. The American guy’s an arrogant, insolent whiner, but our GNH pundits lack clarity and precision of thought. This is exactly why real GNH is suffering.

    • AntiGNH, Do you say that all living in farm house has no GNH? and that living at roadside, in town with all money has GNH in short? From my opinion, I see not exactly in that way. Many people living villages, in farmland live happily with extended family. I live in my village almost 60% of the time. Currently, extreme economic poverty is rare to see in Bhutan? Only, for people with money hunger and greedy seem to be quite unhappy when they cannot stand on upto their desire. My simple GNH is:
      I should have enough food to eat daily; safe water to drink; 2-3 acres of farmland with average house to live; Good farmroad to take my products to market; strong family and community support morally; good envirnment to live in; and lastly, good leaders to preserve what we have and work towards improving progressively and responsively. Thats my take on GNH.

  9. When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like nail. The purpose of hammer is to bang nail; so if there is no GNH elites in Bhutan have no other recourse to subjugate less fortunate ones.

    Coming to real world—- what matter to an individual is his/her well being that is provided by comfortable house, enough food, assurance of quality health care and clean water, breathing clean and fresh air, enough time to introspect and attain high education, not having to live with fear of being robbed, etc.etc. Do such conditions exist in Bhutan for all Bhutanese. The answer is emphatic “NO”; We can propound lofty ideas of gross national happiness when gross well being for all Bhutanese is ensured. Till such time, whatever we talk or listen to is empty talk and hollow noise.


  10. Ahh..ha! even the GNH concept holder and implementer cannot succinctly explain concept in proper manner. This explanation is another a crap. Hitting around the bush. I really doubt how could ordinary and pre-educated people going to grasp the concept in full manner. It is gonna remain theory philosophy development. I doubt for a success. Prepare and memorize in steps wise if you do not know the gist of the GNH yourself.

  11. I sincerely believe that Dasho Ura is also in the same league as JYT. One goes global to promote himself and the other writes about that, to justify his intellectual prowress. I wonder how sincere both are to the underlying principles of why K4 wanted GNH for the Bhutanese people in the Bhutanese context.

  12. Dear dasho, It seems to me now, neither you nor any of Political leaders are in touch of ground realities. I am not saying every one made quick money thru corrupt ways to build their future and now in the name of GNH projecting and showing example of ” every thing is not money, materialist is not everything. But will you be abale to say same if you have not much economy advantage and your son and daughter needs education or a day meal is challenge for some one in Kheng, forget about cars and 5 stars travels on Govts expense like you all previlaged have.
    The further Bhutanese economy managed by so called experts in RMA and Finance is latest events, might even invite bigger problems. Instead of handful of people unhappy, you could say handful are happy, have luxury of having multiple gifted plots in Thimphu, whether deserved is questionable. The entire life funded by state excheqer, have lavish life style with entire valley as compund,with swiss furnish 5 star house and mothly incomes in millons through house rents, car hire tourism shares.
    Alas, i wish i have fallen inthat 10 percent brakets, would have travelled to world in executive class and dine selected in New York hotel, carried some gifts from Himalayan and ask their views for publicity.
    I only understood from the entire writing of David is set our home in order which means among several : Try to give good helath care sytems, try to give citizens best education choice. The country has failed in both of them, do dasho know services for ordinary people in district hospitals, or even in JDW NRH, people die under investigations and trial and error methods.Dasho will have privilage to travel to best hospital in Bangkok, Dy. Cheif of Missions of secretary grade is appointed to over sees the treatments and hospitality for VVIPs and VIPs, on educations : with failing economy of Bhutan, do any one know how parents are suffering to transfer stipend to childrens in India. Your money is not recognised beyond 100 mtrs, The prices of basic comodoties sky rockecting day by day, yet so called leaders see bright future, i wish i have small cottage in BBS tower so that i go meditation inhail enough oxgyen and learn to live in the name of hyper GNH of Bhutan.Well, what ever people call on my writings but not directed to any one but i request leaders and sycopants to do soul searching before they do make comments representing majority Bhutanese without basis. Thank you

  13. This karma ura is only good in talking, he is perfect for history teaching in school. Karma was not happy as he was not selected as chairman of NC. He resigned and he talks about GNH. Better he go for mediation. 

  14. This rebuttal of sorts from our GNH expert in Dasho Karma Ura with due respect fails to precisely answer the question that a common man on the street would ask. His answers are mostly academic and intellectual speculation on what the concept ought to mean rather than how practically it can be related to a common citizen on the street and how its been implemented in our country. How does this answer on growing gap between rich and poor, income inequality, un-employment, corruption, rising economic challenges, basic necessity for all citizens etc. Its one thing to be bombarded with flowery jargon’s and big words and quite another to be at the doorway of reality which many a times contradicts the very ideas that GNH espouses. Its for every citizen to see and judge the good, bad and the ugly picture of our country with out biases and then we might probably agree that we have miles to go before raving and ranting about GNH to all and sundry. Yet again as a citizen, i feel GNH and it’s proponents mean well but that does not mean its a reality.

  15. What we wanted to hear was a simple way to approach to GNH and as usual Karma Ura has gone way over our heads and managed to confuse us even more.

  16. This is the basic problem with GNH.  No one can even quantify even the basic fragments of what contributes to it and the argument thereon.  Surprisingly, he was more interested to find out what percentage of readers supported Dr. David’s views or what % against.  That is a very unprofessional response, when you can not even mention one data or statistics to qualify the argument on GNH.

    Especially when one is talking  from the desk of the CBS, readers expect some valuable information, data, research findings and statistical comparisons to your arguments. 

    Then only it will such never-ending narratives make sense to the wider audience.

  17. The "TRUE" Bhutanese

    No body owes me happiness. If I am not happy, it is not because of Lyonchen Jigme Thinely or Dasho Karma Ura. It’s because I am not able to control my mind- because of which it is filled with greed, lust, anger, hatred, jealousy, discontentment and so on. I salute those who preach and promote GNH because fundmentally it is about “sustainability” which is crucial. As for my personal happiness, it’s really in my hands. Cheers!

  18. I think Dasho Karma Ural makes ample sense. He is not actually countering the relevant points of Dr David but tackling only some of the extreme points and acknowledging that we need to open ourselves to external views also. Some readers here who complian the article is very heavy need to imporve thier IQ levels instaed of Dasho Karma Ura having to lower his IQ. 

  19. With due respect to all, let me also share my personal opinions. Well, at the very out set, I personally do not see any reason to personally attack the ones who are taking their precious time, energy and responsibility to share their views on various topics and concepts. In fact every one, who takes interest in reading the article should be thankful. Because when some one is shading  As any theories, concepts and philosophies would certainly have equal strengths and weaknesses. No body can deny this fact. 

  20. With due respect to all, let me also share my personal opinions. Well, at the very out set, I personally do not see any reason to personally attack the ones who are taking their precious time, energy and responsibility to share their views on various topics and concepts. In fact every one, who takes interest in reading the article should be thankful.  As any theories, concepts and philosophies would certainly have equal strengths and weaknesses…No body can deny this fact.

     One should be mindful in reading such an article that tries to explain the conceptual part at its  highest possible degree  and  not the implementation or the pragmatism per se. If not able to grasp anything out of it, give it up this level for the sake of basic level or at ur level.

     Dr. David openly tries to defame Bhutan  by his outrageous and defamatory comments with less understanding of the GNH concept. Of course, he is true that he talks about the problems, challenges and shortcomings that Bhutan faces as a developing nation. Bhutanese should be open and welcome such criticism based of the ground realities and  the day to day experiences. I thank Dr. David for his emotional and passionate outburst of problems and bringing it  into the limelight through this news outlet.May be Dr. David must have been misinformed or misunderstood Bhutan as described as the Shangri – La by James Hilton before actually coming to Bhutan. Everywhere there are problems and short comings!

    Well, the so called GNH promoters or the GNH conceptual architects, as per my cognizance, have never and ever claimed that Bhutan is the GNH country or the Shangrila without any shortcomings, challenges, problems, etc. Hopefully, they will never make any claims in the future too. If I am wrong, I would suggest all the respected readers to kindly look into the GNH literature and keynote addresses of  our leading intellectuals of GNH architects and promoters. 

    If I am not mistaken, even Dasho Karma Ura openly acknowledges that Bhutan do have scores of pitfalls and challenges. It is so sad that almost all the readers are intentionally trying to discern mountains of positive aspects that are  still intact with us that many states and nations have lost over the years. My personal opinion and observation so far after going through all the comments; I have discovered that majority are still struggling to understand the GNh concept itself.  Most of them does not seem to go beyond the abstract happiness or the subjective wellbeing or the mood based happiness, and not the holistic one. And  it exactly aligns with Dr. David’s who is a fanatic capitalist that his core values are not of the meaning and the purpose of human existence with contentment but the greed and materialistic, all the time. This is what the western people are suffering at this point in time despite developed and civilized in many sense, many terms, yet not so happy. why?? GNH could be an answer or alternative. when GNH architects talks about the happiness, it comprises many broad pillars, domains, indicators and multi-dimensional variables which in most cases hampers the lives of many people invisibly, but partially or fully neglected in most of the constitutions, societies and in political agendas, except in the Bhutanese leaders’ psyche. Hence,  the most developed, educated and civilized citizens of the world are provoked by the so called GNH enunciated by the most Revered HM the 4th King of the tiny Himalayan Kingdom. Westerners wants to know, study and listens to the Bhutanese GNH architects and so called promoters. As a result western nations invites them to deliver and to have a discourse. They does not propose to promote or try to sell the idea but westerners wants to know about GNH as they think that it could be the answer to many crises and depressions that the world faces at this point in time.

    Lastly, to all my fellow Bhutanese citizens,esp. to the readers,  please be mindful and conscious and study the GNH literature as much as possible, not just read for the sake f reading, and try to understand and grasp the basic concept of the GNH. if you all are still not satisfied or happy with the implementation or the pragmatism part  of GNH then write to Dasho Karma Tshitem and do not nonsensically and personally defame Dasho Karma Ura….I know not Dasho Ura, but as a critic I am ethical, believe me or not, choice is yours.

    Thank you.

  21. Was James Milton wrong then?

  22. Here is a GNH pundit who was nominated as one of the five eminent members in the National Council by the King but later resigned citing health problems. (Was reason not the Chair?) CBS I thought is a government agency and its staff, all civil servants but how come it has a post of a President? Or are we missing something here? Is RCSC setting a precedence whereby the head of any government agency can call themselves whatever they like?  By RCSC’s record however CBS only has a Director as its Chief Executive, where did the President thing come from? Therefore if GNH is not elitist, what is it? Titles do give happiness, don’t they? The fact that every response to a question has begun with the word Dasho, it definitely adds importance to Dasho Karma Ura ‘The President’ of CBS. Thus his happiness.

    Keeping aside GNH for now or even as part or inclusive of GNH, I think CBS could contribute more especially giving importance to the need of the hour. Has CBS done any study regards to rupee crisis, growing inflation rates, food crisis, fuel crisis, etc. The need of the hour is economic problem.  Getting lost in the elixir of GNH theory is not helping us much.  Right from uniform law enforcement to service delivery we are laid back in GNH.  Do the pundits know these? 

  23. bhutanese should forget gnh for sometime and learn to work hard

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