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20-11-2023: Gross National Happiness

As a consequence of the Gross National Happiness concept, which is well known around the world, and as a further interpretation and development of it, I have come to the conclusion that Gross National Peace meets more the Spirit of our Time. The Gross National Peace concept, for which GNH is a prerequisite, is not yet known to the public. But today there is not only a desire for Happiness but for Peace and safety, security, and comfort.

After some weeks of executing my new responsibilities, I had one important experience. In all my introducing meetings and talks about Bhutan, after some minutes my partner in conversation wanted to talk with me more about the war in Ukraine, the Russian aggression, NATO and the EU, the blockades, and the request for a stop of the war. Before these issues, the narratives were the climate crisis and the Corona crisis. The common factors in these crises are worries and fear. As a consequence, we must realize that Bhutan’s Happiness concept is not in focus, and it is more difficult to bring Bhutan into the spotlight.

Bhutan is a small country with a great message. Therefore, I suggest a possibility to make Bhutan more interesting beside all troublesome developments in the world when we take more action to explain how fear and anxiety will be reduced and how passion for all beings, serenity, empathy, and love will grow when we understand and practice the well-known Gross National Happiness as a concept which leads to Gross National Peace and even to Gross International Peace.

According to my understanding and my personal interpretation, most people in the West had no idea what happiness meant when His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the 4th King, said in 1979 that Gross National Happiness is more important than the Gross Domestic Product. Since then, this expression has been in the world. Bhutan is a Buddhist country, and therefore, Happiness arises out of the Buddhist tradition and spirit. It arises from the inside and is not restricted to outside fulfilment of desires and well-being. Many explanations are in the world; from Bhutan and from abroad. There is even a UN Resolution 65/309 dated January 16th, 2013, titled “Happiness: towards a holistic approach to development.” Bhutan, France, Italy, Japan, Qatar, and the UK added their interpretations. Each year the 20th of March is the Happiness Day. I don’t think that all these initiatives have changed the world enough from a materialistic and egocentric focus, which creates even war, to a more holistic balance of inner and outer values to develop the power of wholeness, which achieves inner and outer PEACE.

The Consequence: We must explain more about what real Happiness in Bhutan in all three dimensions of wholeness, in fact, means and how people can experience that in the West for their own advantage. The three dimensions, which influence Happiness, are from my personal point of view and experience: 1) Happiness from Body and Mind 2) Happiness from Soul and Psyche 3) Happiness from Spirit

When we try to understand these levels of Happiness, we will fail. We have to enter into practices to experience Happiness; in Bhutan i.e. by exercises and practices based on Buddhism. In my experience, the Happiness of Bhutan is very often not understood in the West because, despite all efforts to explain it, the instructions on how to achieve it are missing.

The first step is always to practice mindfulness for the here and now, far away from all the noise of our time. There are many spiritual ways to do this, such as meditation, contemplation, imagination, dreams, prayer, recitation of mantras and sacred texts, yoga, aikido, etc., and archery, which is so popular in Bhutan. Experiences in nature, culture, music, love, and meditative movements are also part of it. The second step for inner growth is the practice of letting go. From the emptiness that then arises, a liberation from the egoistic and egocentric ego is achieved, and even enlightenment can emerge as grace. The result is the happy human being who is not attached anymore to the ego but is grounded in the Self, our inner dimension which is of divine origin.

Bhutan was based for centuries on the wholeness of the Buddhist religion and is therefore perfectly prepared not only for Happiness but also for Peace. But Bhutan is now looking for advancements in science, technology, and medicine to develop the country, and parallel one tries to avoid the problems of today’s Western culture. His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck is pushing the pace because the holistic understanding of happiness is a prerequisite for peace in the life of the individual and for peace in the world. He makes it very clear, and he builds the bridge between Happiness and Peace. “There cannot be enduring peace, prosperity, equality, and brotherhood in this world if our aims are so separate and divergent if we do not accept that in the end, we are people, all alike, sharing the Earth among ourselves and also with other sentient beings, all of whom have an equal role and stake in the state of this planet and its players.”

In times of the Ukraine war, this understanding and realization are especially timely. Therefore, we can all learn from Bhutan; a small country but a big, great important message to much larger countries for happiness and peace. The process for Happiness and Peace starts within the individual and then spreads into the collective and over the world. Bhutan is the most peaceful country in South East Asia but only No. 22 with a 1510 Global peace index in 2021. Well, this ranking depends, of course, on the questions and evaluations. Inner holistic peace is not part of the ranking. If this would be included Bhutan would, of course, belong to the top ranks. Gross National Happiness and Gross National Peace unfold in us their sustainable ethics and a believable and trustworthy morality that is urgently needed in our world. Then we would be in a Gross National Peace flow. Yes, we all can learn from Bhutan.


Contributed by

Dr Erhard Meyer-Galow

Honorary Consul of the Kingdom of Bhutan in Germany