Gross National Happiness — Around the World and in the USA

Yellow Happy Smiley FaceThe concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH) began in Bhutan. This post looks at GNH around the world and in the United States.

During a U.N. speech, Prime Minister Jigmy Thinley of Bhutan said, “I believe an economy is not an economy if, at the very least, it does not cause economy. It ought to promote prudent use and management of scarce resources to make life stable and secure”.

Gross National Happiness Around the World

A series of international conferences on GNH helped spread the word around the globe in the 21st century and led to action by the United Nations.

February 2004 – the 1st International Conference on GNH Operationalizing Gross National Happiness was held in Thimphu, Bhutan.

June 2005 – the 2nd International Conference on GNH took place in Nova Scotia, Canada with the theme Rethinking Development: Local Pathways to Global Well-being.

November, 2007 – Bangkok, Thailand hosted the 3rd International Conference on GNH Towards Global Transformation: World Views Make a Difference.

November 2008 – the 4th International Conference on GNH returned to Thimphu, Bhutan and was entitled Practicing and Measurements on GNH.

November 2009 – Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil, hosted the 5th International Conference on GNH Gross National Happiness in Practice.

August 2011 – U.N. Resolution 65/309 Happiness: towards a holistic approach to development was adopted during the 65th session of the United Nations. This empowered the Kingdom of Bhutan to convene a high-level meeting on wellbeing and happiness.

World Happiness Report 2012 Cover - Earth InstituteApril 2012 – the Royal Government of Bhutan hosted a 3-day conference entitled Wellbeing and Happiness: Defining a New Economic Paradigm at the United Nations headquarters in New York. In preparation, the Earth Institute of Columbia University published the first ever World Happiness Report comprised of information and data from across the globe.

June 2012 – the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20 took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Rio+20 was a 20-year follow up to the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development / Earth Summit. During the conference nations agreed to explore alternatives to GDP as a measure of wealth that take environmental and social factors into account in an effort to assess and pay for ‘environmental services’ provided by nature, such as carbon sequestration and habitat protection.

March 20th, 2013 – will mark the first world-wide recognition of “International Happiness Day” which resulted from a United Nations resolution passed with consensus in the 193-member assembly.

Gross National Happiness in the United States

Spring 2009 – 6 Vermonters who had attended the 4th International Conference on GNH in 2008, founded the Gross National Happiness USA nonprofit organization to promote awareness of GNH, gather information, and connect people interested in the movement.

June 2010 – the first U.S. based conference on Gross National Happiness GNH 2010: Changing What We Measure from Wealth to Well-Being was hosted by Gross National Happiness USA in Burlington, VT.

November 2011 – an ad hoc panel facilitated by the National Academy of Sciences began an 18-month project entitled Measuring Subjective Well-Being in a Policy Relevant Framework whose purpose is to review current research and evaluate methods for measuring subjective wellbeing (SWB) in population surveys. The project is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute on Aging, and the U.K. Economic and Social Research Council.

April 13, 2012 – the first “Pursuit of Happiness Day” was celebrated in the U.S. as part of Sustainable Happiness Week which culminated in Earth Day on April 20th.

May 2012Vermont enacted legislation to compile a new measure of the state’s “economic, environmental, and societal well-being”.

Author's Soap BoxAuthor’s Soap Box

Historically, the United States has focused on business and financial indicators to determine how successful we are as country and measure the health our economy. Happiness and wellbeing of the populace has been downplayed.

In today’s challenging economic times, we are bombarded with the message that economic growth is the goal and will supposedly fix everything. On a planet with an expanding population, a growing environmental crisis, and diminishing resources, discussions about growing our economy at the expense of the planet and it’s people don’t make sense to me. Business as usual will not get the job done.

We need a new economic model that balances using and consuming with preserving, restoring and sharing. The gross national happiness concept represents a valid alternative. At a minimum it is a useful tool for developing a new economic model, building awareness of public perception, and informing government policy.

“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”

— Aristotle

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Author: Linda Poppenheimer

Linda researches and writes about environmental topics to share information, spark conversation, and convince people to take action to keep earth habitable for all. She believes our individual actions do matter—it all adds up.

4 thoughts on “Gross National Happiness — Around the World and in the USA”

  1. If this isn’t the most obvious and yet ignored view of an “economy”;
    “I believe an economy is not an economy if, at the very least, it does not cause economy…”

    I wonder when the singular meaning of the word “economy” took on such vastly different meanings as used today in western culture? Why do we consider the “economy” from a business sense to be practically the direct opposite of the basic definition of the word?

    It is very interesting to try to think about our world in this “happiness” context vs. pure monetary/power/control measurements.

    So… somehow I think this all needs to come back around to chocolate! 🙂
    (JK)

  2. I take a daily paper and although I do not read it thoroughly, I do try and keep up with what is happening, even sports to some extent. Soooooooooooo why have I not read anything about Gross National Happiness? Perhaps the media does not want to cover this alternative as there would be no need for 24/7 economic newscasters. It just proves again that the media continues to filter out, most of the time, the positive news. Thank you for introducing me to this wonderful concept.

  3. Bhutan citizens emit 18 pounds of CO2 per day, and their forests absorb about 58 pounds day. The people of Bhutan are not melting glaciers and not raising sea level.
    California counties are working on climate action plans. Might they ask citizens to strive to emit less CO2 than California forests absorb on their behalf? Then they can propose their County seek Gross National Happiness, and they can go to bed each night knowing they have tried to bring happiness to themselves and all those around them.

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