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  1. #1
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    Lure of Bhutanese happiness index

    Lure of Bhutanese happiness index
    Sunday, January 16, 2011


    Photo: Bruno MuffAshfaqur Rahman

    The Prime Minister of Bhutan L.J.Y Thinley, during his recent visit to Bangladesh, gave a lecture on Gross National Happiness in Dhaka University. He described people in today's world as "economic animals" and characterised development activities as tools for materialistic growth. He said that societies were doing little to make people happy.

    The prime minister was not pointing a finger at any particular country but to all persons whose purpose in life is only to create wealth and damn the finer aspects of life. Countries are being ranked on the basis of wealth (Gross National Product) so created. Bhutan, however, employs a set of indices each year to determine the state of happiness of her people. To the Bhutanese leadership happiness is an end in itself.

    The study of happiness and its use as an index to measure human welfare goes back in history. Adam Smith, an English economist of the eighteenth century and Jeremy Benjamin, a philosopher, had seriously studied happiness as an economic phenomenon. But with the introduction of quantitative methods in economics, happiness fell out of fashion and utility became synonymous with income.

    A century passed before Richard Easterlin, an American economist, revisited this relationship between happiness and income. He discovered a paradox -- average happiness level did not increase as countries got richer. There was also no clear relationship between average per capita GDP and average happiness level across countries, once such countries crossed a certain minimum level of per capita income. This is generally known as the Easterlin Paradox.

    Apart from economists, scientists have also investigated happiness. Initially, they determined that no effort to increase happiness is lasting as there was an "unchangeable and biological set point to happiness." It is a person's genes and upbringing that decide and bring us back to our set point of happiness.

    Nowadays, however, neuroscientists say happiness is tangible and is the result of brain activity. You can see and even measure happiness. Yet, there are opinions in the scientific community that says happiness is pleasure without desire, a state of contentment and indifference. Such a state is a kind of bliss which Buddhists seek and experience through meditation.

    Enter Bhutan's royal family. In 1972, the former Bhutanese King Jigme Singye Wangchuk, who opened his country to modernisation, was determined to build an economy that would serve Bhutan's unique culture based on Buddhist spiritual values. He, therefore, introduced happiness of humans as the key indicator of growth.

    After King Wangchuk, learned Bhutanese themselves developed a survey to measure the general level of wellbeing of the people. Other academics around the world then devised policy screening tools to measure potential impact of economic projects and programmes on what Bhutanese call as Gross National Happiness (GNH). They suggested that human society benefited more when material and spiritual development occurred side by side to complement and reinforce each other.

    GNH has four pillars: sustainable development, preservation of cultural values, conservation of the environment and establishment of good governance. GNH is also applicable across various cultures. Thus, it can be used equally in a Buddhist polity as well as in a Muslim society or in the Christian world.

    There are also eight contributors to happiness: physical, mental and spiritual health, time balance, community vitality, cultural vitality, education, living standards, good governance and ecological vitality.

    Bhutan is a country with a unique history. The country was never conquered or colonised. The Bhutanese have, therefore, developed a culture free from outside influence. They cherish their institution of monarchy and have developed a deep sense of nationhood. So when they arrived in the modern world they already had an ancient culture strapped on to their backs.

    Their pristine environment is another element that always dominated their lives. They live among beautiful mountains which have protected them from the vagaries of nature and also from human depredations. Living in splendid isolation they became a happy people.

    The people of Bhutan practice Mahayana Buddhism and their religious institutions continue to play an important part in their lives. Monks there play key roles in their daily lives. Hence, this simple life style easily enhances their happiness. The contentment of the people is the basis which defines what they refer to as economic growth. The Bhutanese prime minister's assertion that people around the world are not pursuing happiness is somewhat true, if seen through his lens.

    The science of happiness, however, poses serious questions for politicians everywhere.

    Although governments in many countries have been able to produce income and wealth for their people, this has not brought happiness to them. Therefore, the very basis of modern life and its principles are being challenged.

    Tony Blair, former British prime minister had once said: "Money isn't everything. Delivering the best possible quality of life for us all means more than concentrating solely on economic growth." David Cameron, the present British prime minister, had said: "We should be thinking not just what is good for putting money in people's pockets, but also what is good for putting joy in people's hearts." The idea that politics should be about creating the "greatest happiness of the greatest number" still holds good and deserves serious attention.

    In Bangladesh, politics is of a different genre. It is practiced by a few to create enormous wealth. But the wealth is not always meant to be shared with the greatest number, but only with the privileged few who helped to create it. The rest are required to fend for themselves, if they can.

    Politics in Bangladesh is also disempowering. We often have to witness how our environment, our culture and even our time balance are subject to influences beyond our control. Our happiness, as per Bhutanese standards, is always under severe test. When we seek good governance, happiness instantly becomes a distant goal. Our politicians do not always know what good governance is and how they can provide it to their people. Hence, they are unable to make us happy.

    The Bhutanese prime minister has raised a pertinent issue before our politicians and leaders in society. The question that beggars us all is what type of animal we really wish to be -- economic, social or just spiritual. Or do we rest our case by being a happy person. We need to think, and seek the answer from within us.

    The lure to formulate our own happiness index is quite compelling. In that event, we need to describe what should constitute happiness to a Bangladeshi. Is it only the Bhutanese eight that we know about or are other items need to be added to build our own happiness index. Maybe our economists and planners, philosophers and politicians should consider a brain-storming on this subject.

    thedailystar.net

    Ashfaqur Rahman is a former Ambassador and Chairman of the Centre for Foreign Affairs Studies. E-mail: ashfaq303[at]hotmail.com

  2. #2
    euston has flown

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    All of which explains why their police are current kicking in the front doors of anyone they think might be a smoker. At least it wasn't a lecture promoting joys of subsistence farming by one of the richest persons in the world.

  3. #3
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    Unhappiness exported
    Dec 27th 2010

    THE insulated kingdom of Bhutan, one of the last countries to allow the wider world to penetrate its borders via television and the internet, is often held up as a Himalayan idyll. Nestled between giants India and China, Bhutan was rated the happiest country in Asia by researchers at Britain’s University of Leicester in 2006. According to its own government, the population is 97% happy. In fact, happiness is so central to the Bhutanese government’s ruling philosophy that it measures its progress in terms of “gross national happiness”—a spiritual barometer of sorts—rather than by GDP.

    Such metrics however tend to skip over the Bhutanese nationals who reside in eastern Nepal. Their lives in Bhutan took a very unpleasant turn in 1989 when, in response to the country’s growing ethnic Nepali minority, then-King Wangchuck declared a “One Bhutan, One People” policy, granting privileged status to the indigenous Ngalong culture, language, religion and even dress.

    The immediate fallout of the king’s declaration has never been documented comprehensively; important aspects remain a mystery. The Nepali Bhutanese who left in the subsequent exodus report that official attempts to impose the majority culture drew resentful protests—some of which became fiery. The state, in turn, cracked down. According to refugees, the army and police launched a campaign of intimidation, violence and even murder to rid southern Bhutan of its ethnic-Nepali population (around a fifth of the kingdom’s total population at that time). Many found their way to Nepal, where camps were established to provide them with basic shelter.

    The Bhutanese government has dismissed allegations that it used violence. It maintains that most of those who left were illegal immigrants, recently arrived. Most of the adults who live in those camps today, however, can readily produce Bhutanese citizenship cards. International agencies operating in the camps say that roughly 90% of their residents can prove citizenship. What’s more, the exodus came in one shot and included the old and infirm—people who don't pick up and move easily—which all suggests that a singular trauma served as the impetus.

    Starting last year, after more than 110,000 refugees had idled in camps for nearly two decades, the first waves of resettlement began. Most went on to America, with a remainder going to Canada and a handful of European countries.

    This month the 40,000th Bhutanese refugee departed for Newark, New Jersey, in America. The UN, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and resettlement countries all celebrated the occasion as a milestone. The operation is currently the largest resettlement project in the world—and one of the fastest, too, having resettled some 18,000 refugees a year. But its success is depressing too: it is all but certain none of the refugees will be repatriated.

    Some had been holding out, still determined to reclaim their property and return to their homeland. “This year I finally lost hope,” said Kissor Adhikari, 42, a resident of Beldangi-II camp whose father is already living in Michigan. “I’ve now applied for resettlement to start a real life again.” Of the 73,000 who remain in the camps, only 18,000 have yet to apply for resettlement. Even that number is fast-dwindling, says the IOM, which notes that it receives 1,000 new resettlement applications every month.

    In the meantime, while displaced peoples from nearby Tibet have garnered considerable international attention, their Bhutanese counterparts have largely remained in the shadows. Bhutan is best recognised as the world’s last true Shrangi-La. Residents in Beldangi-II camp would describe their homeland in somewhat different terms.

    economist.com

  4. #4
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    Climate Change Threatens Bhutan's Gross National Happiness

    THIMPU, Bhutan, September 9, 2011 (ENS) - Hydropower, the biggest economic driver in the Himalayan country of Bhutan, is threatened by serious water shortages as the country's glaciers melt due to climate warming, finds Bhutan's latest National Human Development Report. Many of Bhutan's glaciers are melting at a higher rate than those in other mountain ranges, according to the new report, "Sustaining Progress: Rising to the Climate Challenge."

    "Alternative development pathways, such as Gross National Happiness that we are promulgating, will influence the capacity of communities ... to adapt to climate change," said Pema Gyamtsho, minister of agriculture and forests, at the report's launch last week.


    Glacial lakes in Bhutan's Himalayas as seen from space, from left: Raphstreng Lake, Thorthormi Lake, Luggye Lake, October 2009.
    (Image by Robert Simmon courtesy NASA Earth Observatory)


    Gross National Happiness is the official development philosophy of Bhutan, a kingdom led by King Jigme Singye Wangchuk. It has been approved by parliament, making Bhutan the world's only country to measure its wellbeing by Gross National Happiness instead of Gross National Product.

    To realize its Gross National Happiness philosophy of life, Bhutan has prioritized conservation of the environment, and made a commitment to remain carbon neutral by keeping absorption of the greenhouse gases higher than emissions.

    More than 70 percent of Bhutan is covered with forests. With an export ban on unprocessed timber, Bhutan has been able to keep its carbon absorption from the agriculture, energy and industry sectors at levels that maintain its status as a net sink for greenhouse gases.

    Yet as the climate continues to warm, melting Himalayan glaciers are theatening not only the happiness but also the lives of Bhutan residents. Depleted glaciers will leave little water for Bhutanese hydropower, but as they melt, catastrophic amounts of water will be released.

    As glaciers move across the landscape, they pile up rocky debris, forming moraines that act as natural dams for lakes filled with melt water. When they fail, they can create devastating glacial outburst floods.

    On October 7, 1994, in the Bhutan Himalaya, the partial collapse of a moraine along the edge of the Luggye Lake released a glacial outburst flood that killed 21 people and swept away livestock, crops, and homes.


    Rapsthreng Lake and Thorthormi Glacier in Bhutan, September 2008
    (Photo by Yaklela)


    Luggye is not the only dangerous glacier in the region. Officials are also concerned about the nearby Thorthormi Glacier Lake and the unstable moraine separating it from Raphstreng Lake, to the west.

    An outburst flood from Thorthormi into Raphstreng could cause the lower lake to overflow as well. The combined outpouring of meltwater and rock debris could be even more devastating than the 1994 disaster.

    To reduce the likelihood of a glacial outburst flood, Bhutan has begun a project to lower the water levels of both glacial lakes.

    "Resources are needed quickly given the long-term nature of adaptation initiatives and the short-term prospect of climate-related consequences," said Ajay Chhibber, assistant administrator of the UN Development Programme.

    "The financing requirements for climate change adaptation and mitigation are considerable for a landlocked, least developed country such as Bhutan," said Chhibber.

    A collaboration between the Gross National Happiness Commission Secretariat on behalf of the Royal Government of Bhutan and the UN Development Programme, the report resulted from consultations with national institutions, civil society organizations and development partner agencies.

    The report recommends that Bhutan increase its resilience to climate change by integrating climate policies, strategies and action plans into national poverty reduction strategies and development plans.

    The report calls for "green development" and for exercising further control over potentially harmful activities, such as logging, mining, mass tourism and the use of pesticides.

    It also recommends establishing baseline climate information and data and improvements in collection and analysis of research.

    The report advises expansion of ongoing climate financing mechanisms, warning that building resilience to changing weather patterns and melting glaciers is key to the one quarter of Bhutan's population who live in poverty, dependent on subsistence farming and local natural resources.

    ens-newswire.com

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