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Governments forming happy and spiritual citizens

The Finance, Government and International Relations Faculty invited Sonam Tobgyal, Research Deputy Director of the Gross National Happiness Commission of Bhutan, to discuss the development of the happiness index.

Can you imagine a country where the government’s utmost priority is the happiness of its citizens? Bhutan, located in South Asia, has stipulated in its Constitution that all Bhutanese must be guaranteed this condition.

The development of the gross national happiness concept began in 1961, when, starting from scratch, the country began to build its roots and a culture marked by Buddhism. The concept of happiness has been present for 400 years, but in politics, it appeared in 1971 when the fourth King of Bhutan ascended to the throne. The King, one of the youngest in the world, only 17 years old, said: “to progress, and for my people to prosper, we will build our country on happiness, not money.”

Sonam Tobgyal tells that was the beginning of the creation of the country for its citizens. In 2008, the monarchy was replaced by a democratic system, establishing a Constitution stipulating the State must ensure the happiness of the Bhutanese people, measured by the Gross National Happiness Index (GNH).

“The GNH, then, was confirmed as a holistic development seeking to achieve the maximum social well-being without damaging the environment, without losing the cultural heritage, without causing stress, with spirituality and Buddhist values; it is about finding the balance between financial and non-financial needs,” said Tobgyal. “Happiness is a mixture of subjective and objective needs, and the Government is obligated to give both to its citizens,” he added.

According to the Bhutan Deputy Director, the Government does not reject economic progress, but is not concerned about becoming a rich country. Therefore, they have always placed the FNB before the GDP (Gross Domestic Product).

Currently, gross national happiness is based on 9 normative values, divided into 33 indices with 129 indicators:

  1. Psychological well-being
  2. Physical and mental health
  3. Use of time
  4. Education
  5. Cultural diversity and resilience
  6. Good government
  7. Good relationship among communities
  8. Ecological diversity
  9. Living standards

The Bhutan Government measures the above values through surveys generating sufficiency and happiness thresholds; the latter is measured by asking citizens if they are unhappy, somewhat happy, very happy, and extremely happy; Additionally, they must complete an extensive questionnaire on the nine normative.

“Our task is to measure from each person and each household. We use different operations and statistics techniques to achieve results and improve our goal for all our citizens to be happy,” stated the Bhutan Deputy Director of the Gross National Happiness Commission.

At the meeting, Sonam Tobgyal also addressed the most important aspects of his country, such as their traditional clothing, the practice of sports, and the economic model, while highlighting the importance for Colombia to find a happiness model, especially now when the country is experiencing a  post-conflict situation.

The talk was held within the framework of the strategy to strengthen relations between Colombia and Asia; the Presidential Agency for International Cooperation invited different Asian countries to exchange ideas and experiences on social development and construction of peace issues.