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Dr. Sally Booth explores Bhutan’s concept of Gross National Happiness

Director of Curriculum Sally Booth was invited to attend an inspiring conference at the United Nations with government officials, scholars, and activists this past week. The conference was a high-level meeting on the topic of well-being and happiness and was hosted by Bhutan’s Prime Minister Jigmi Y. Thinley.

This meeting was a way to reach out to the international community to share alternative concepts of growth and development. The proposal is to replace the conventional goals of economic profit through Gross National Product with the goals of well-being through Gross National Happiness.

GNH is based on a concept developed by King Jigme Singye Wangchuck in the 1970s, as he outlined Bhutan’s plan for economic development. GNH is based on four pillars supporting the spiritual and physical well-being of the Bhutanese people– sustainable development, cultural heritage protection, natural environment preservation, and the practice of good governance. This movement is important for all countries now, and the United Nations is paying attention!

Prime Minister Thinley – a forward thinking, charismatic leader – addressed the gathering twice in the day’s meeting, calling on the assembled guests to support Bhutan as it takes the lead in redefining its future development, and shaping the country’s interdependent relations with the rest of the world. PM Thinley called on the assembly to address the issues of a) the new economy, b) well-being and happiness, c) ecological sustainability, d) fair distribution of resources, and e) efficient use of resources. There was an agreement among all the speakers that ecological sustainability must be the primary objective of all nations – the present pace of squandering and misuse of the earth’s resources must be reversed immediately to preserve our planet.

Great people spoke on behalf of these important goals. The Secretary General of the United Nations, H.E. Mr. Ban Ki-moon and H.E. Ms. Laura Chinchilla, Honorable President of the Republic of Costa Rica, supported PM Thinley’s urgent message, pledging support from around the world to honor the mandates devoted to well-being and sustainability. Vandana Shiva, the environmental activist and a world leader of the alter-globalization movement, gave a rousing speech critiquing the contemporary food production practices that lead to environment degradation and public health crises.

Zenobia Barlow (left), Vandana Shiva, and Dr. Sally Booth

The educational component of this project is impressive. Bhutan’s government is dedicated to transforming the educational infrastructure in order to train their youth to embody the principles of GNH and protect the integrity of Bhutan’s rich culture and environment with sound political and economic choices. The project of THINK Global School, helping students gain cross-cultural perspectives on the great global issues of today, fits neatly with the larger goals at this international meeting. Our students, Pema and Gawa, can help us as ambassadors of their country’s efforts to spearhead social change.

Top image courtesy of the Royal Government of Bhutan

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