Dasho Karma Ura the head of Center for Bhutan Studies talked about GNH in his recent visit to Assam and Nagaland. This interview given on 14th December 2014 in the Nagaland Post presenting a simplified version of GNH has been reproduced here with his assent
Nagaland Post (NP): Can you briefly explain (in a simple way), what GNH is all about and also whether it is correlated with GNP and GDP?
Dasho Karma Ura (DKU): In 1972, His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, still a teenage monarch, first spoke about Gross National Happiness (GNH) and questioned why Gross Domestic Product (GDP) alone could deliver happiness and well-being to society. For such a young King it was a wise question because, as the last 40 years have shown, many societies are interested not only in GDP but also something beyond. GDP takes into account everything, Robert Kennedy once said, “except that which makes life worthwhile.” Gross National Happiness attempts to correct that imbalance. Not an easy task, but a worthy one.
By only using GDP as a guiding force the first purpose in life is to earn more to spend more so as to consume more. As a result the finer and nobler human values are brushed aside by the baser instinct of greed that is within all of us. And so family, community and relationships that form the very core and basis of society are collapsing. We are not only harming ourselves but also the world around us.
In essence GDP (1) does not make real distinctions between what is GDP made from good development and GDP made from bad development; (2) does not adequately value natural, human and social capital in its measurement; (3) does not value free time and leisure; and (4) does not value unpaid work; and (5) does not explicit provides for equity.
NP: How successful has GNH been in Bhutan? Has it impacted socio-economic development there?
DKU: A GNH index has been developed that measures key conditions of well-being like physical and mental health, community vitality, work-life balance, living standards, civic engagement, and the ecological integrity on which the whole human endeavor depends.
The government of Bhutan uses also GNH indicators in its five year national planning. It uses GNH policy screening tools for policy clearance. Bhutan’s development has entered its 60th decade and it is considered one of the great success stories. Partly it is due to GNH, itself a product of an outstanding leader – HM the Fourth King. To some people GNH still seems elusive, but its analytical and technical decision making tools are still a work in progress.
NP: Can the concept of GNH be replicated in Nagaland?
DKU: GNH in its simplest form is a balance between tradition and modernity. It provides a guide for right living. At one level, it addresses material needs. On another level it addresses the inner parts of us that create a sense of our well-being. It is about finding a long lasting happiness that does not come at the cost of the well-being of others or the environment on which our welfare depends. GNH is not simply about personal happiness or self-indulgence. It is happiness in relation to what surrounds us: our community and the natural environment. It is about making human life more meaningful, fulfilling, and sustainable. These things make GNH applicable to all societies. All societies are in search of it and often have such a philosophy. But it may not be called GNH as such. The name GNH does not at all matter; it should be known by its local philosophy.
NP: Will it be possible and practicable to modify the GNH concept for Nagaland?
DKU: GNH is a balanced and holistic approach to development. It is based on the belief that man is bound by nature to search for happiness, and that it is the single most desire of every citizen. The only difference between Bhutan and others may be that Bhutan does not dismiss it as a fantasy. Having had a brief but intense experience of and in Nagaland, I feel the Nagas and its various clans will intuitively and gradually embrace GNH.
NP: Can GNH be a subject to be taught in colleges and university?
DKU: Both the media and educational process have to be involved to inform the public. Older Bhutanese had GNH principles and values are genuinely internalized through culture. But we need to be far more proactive as regards youth. Schools and colleges in Bhutan have short lessons and literature on happiness. They are mainly about values aligned with GNH so that these helpful values are manifested simply and naturally in all situations—in and out of schools.
NP: If the concept is to be accepted by the Government of Nagaland, how would you propose to introduce it?
DKU: The social and economic planning institutions; the media and the educational institutions must be convinced of its value and brought on board. In many areas, the Govt. of Nagaland is doing already a lot to address people’s aspiration and happiness. Through GNH it can be sharpened.
Good evidence is essential for informed decision making. Without it, policy making would be blind, and have no understanding where the greatest needs are and which parts of the population need to be targeted with each programme. They can also send early warning signals to policy makers if key indicators begin to trend downwards, to allow and encourage remedial action. But evidence needs to be collected through good surveys. So I would start also with a GNH style survey for which we have questionnaire.
NP: Can you also think of training up people such as entrepreneurs, social workers, village institutions, tribal organizations and church workers so that they can help the concept to percolate to the grass root level?
DKU: Gatherings in terms of workshops and seminars to familiarize people on concepts, measurements and evidences can be given in stand alone events or as part of other forum.
NP: In how many countries have you spread the concept of GNH and how are they implementing it?
DKU: There is no government that implements GNH strictly as such. But there are many governments who now recognize the need to address broader issues of happiness and wellbeing in governance. Japan, Thailand, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Germany are some nations. However, the number is very large at subnational bodies like states, municipalities, companies and institutions around the world that follow some degree of GNH-like goals and practices.
Increase in focus on happiness and wellbeing has grown also because of manifold growth in research on these topics.