A Critical View on GNH

Gross National Happiness (GNH)

The average person on the street and worse the educated of the Business School (Gaeddu College) simply lack any deep understanding of what GNH means. They can parrot the principles and espouse the mantra but look at their daily decision making and living and you will quickly find that consumerism and obtaining the things they are now seeing and hearing about on the net, web, movies, etc has them firmly in their grip. They have to understand that GNH is a practical – daily way of life not just an economic measure that would have real and significant impacts that are “negative” as well as positive. I have often wondered if GNH were fully explained and put up to a real vote of the people, whether or not it would be supported.

No India, no GNH it’s that simple. Right now Bhutan is fundamentally a welfare state or put another way Bhutan is like a trust fund baby living off the largess and generosity of India. If India cut the donations, pulled the cheap labor, and made Bhutan stand on its own two feet, what would happen? Hence, I find it rather preposterous that Bhutan’s leaders go out and tell the rest of the world how to develop economically.

Until it is in place and shown to be working, clearly documented that the people of the world want what Bhutan has accomplished, GNH will remain a platitude. It is a hard concept to disagree with but to actually see it work and in practice is another matter. Bhutan needs to practice what it preaches before going out and preaching.

At the end of the day GNH, GDP, and everything else are largely just concepts discussed by relatively minor percentages of the world population. The real issue is not what we measure or how we measure it, the real issue is how people behave. For example, many countries from Singapore to the USA have much more ingrained and in many cases “legalized” principles / practices which are more reflective of GNH even though those countries still measure GDP, GNP and the like.

The King said a line which most influenced me during my whole stay in Bhutan, which was “Bhutan cannot afford to create or inherit first world problems and solve them with third world resources.” I wonder if many leaders are reading the papers in Bhutan – murder, alcoholism, domestic violence, unemployed youths creating gangs in the capital on and on and on. I have got news for you given what my 22 year old son observed in Gaeddu, Thimphu and Paro. You are about 1 to 2 years from an explosion of drug use and alcohol abuse. So the question is this why if the pursuit of GNH is so great, why are your social ills escalating at such a rapid rate. Moreover, as a percent of population, Bhutan already is showing higher rates of social dysfunction than many countries who measure GDP.

Despite the promulgation of leftist writers not everyone in GDP countries is miserable, depressed and unhappy. Moreover, not everyone on the planet believes happiness to be our prime aim in life as all the world’s major religions would suggest that service to God or a Higher Power is our purpose on this planet and that there is no guarantee of happiness. Thomas Jefferson even wrote that our right was the pursuit of happiness not obtaining happiness.

Finally, Bhutanese leaders need to realize that there is a big difference between a hand out and a hand up. However, in either case, you probably won’t get them by telling everyone else how bad they are doing.




This story from Sonam Pem

Sonam Pem has the distinction of being our very first author on Bhutanomics.


  1. I like your views