Bhutan, the tiny Himalayan nation which tops Asia in the United Nations’ First World Happiness Report, convened a high level meeting on April 2 seeking to develop a new economic model based on principles of well being and happiness. Should the concept of Gross National Product be replaced by Gross National Happiness? The Prime Minister of Bhutan, Lyonchhen Jigmi Y Thinley said in his opening address at the United Nations Head Quarter in New York City that it not only should but that it must if mankind is to avoid its current unsustainable and self-destructive course.
“The GDP-lead development model that compels boundless growth on a planet with limited resources no longer makes economic sense. It is the cause of our irresponsible, immoral and self-destructive actions,” Lyonchhen said. “The purpose of development must be to create enabling conditions through public policy for the pursuit of the ultimate goal of happiness by all citizens.”
The conference titled “Well-being and Happiness: Defining a New Economic Paradigm,” brought together more than six hundred representatives of government — including Costa Rican President Laura Chincilla, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, President of UN Economic and Social Council Miloas Koteree, President of the UN General Assembly — academics and other civic leaders to discuss the issue, endorsing the importance of happiness.
In his address, the UN Secretary General commended the Government of Bhutan for initiating this important debate on the link between happiness, well-being and prosperity. He said that measuring success by wealth alone has been questioned in the groundbreaking Brundtland Report of 1987, the Human Development Index and the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, established by President Sarkozy of France.
“Bhutan has recognized the supremacy of national happiness over national income since the early 1970s and has famously adopted the goal of GNH over GNP,” Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said adding that such thinking is now gaining ground in other regions. Secretary General said, “we need a new economic paradigm that recognizes the parity between the three pillars of sustainable development – social, economic and environmental well-being. Together they define gross global happiness.”
President of Costa Rica, Laura Chincilla, in her opening address said that the purpose and meaning of development is not the sheer accumulation of wealth, but the well-being of the people and the pursuit of their happiness.
“We regularly come to the UN, in exercise of our equality as States, to forge a better common destiny. Today, I come to the UN, enthusiast, to reflect on the well-being and happiness as fundamental variables to guide our public policies,” President Chincilla said. “The exchange of ideas at this conference will contribute to define and systemize broader dimensions and more comprehensive indicators on human development in its fullest sense.
The President of the General Assembly, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, echoed Ban Ki Moon’s remarks. He emphasized that “today’s unprecedented ecological, economic and social challenges have made the achievement of happiness and well-being an unachievable goal for many,” adding that a new economic paradigm that takes into account not only economic growth but environmental protection and social development is needed.
“It is imperative that we build a new, creative guiding vision for sustainability and our future,” Mr. Al-Nasser said. “One that will bring a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach that will promote sustainability, eradicate poverty and enhance well-being and happiness.”
The World Happiness Report was also released today to coincide with the conference. Jeffery Sachs, a prominent development economist at Columbia University in New York who edited the World Happiness Report along with John Helliwell and Richard Layard, said that happiness could be achieved independent of economic well-being as measured by GNP.
“GNP by itself does not promote happiness,” Sachs told the conference. “The U.S. has had a three time increase of GNP per capita since 1960, but the happiness needle hasn’t budged. Other countries have pursued other policies and achieved much greater gains of happiness, even at much lower levels of per capita income.”
Although wealthy nations like Denmark, Norway, Finland and the Netherlands lead the rankings of happiest countries while poor nations like Togo, Benin, Central African Republic and Sierra Leone ranked among the least happy, the report noted that social factors such as the strength of social support, the absence of corruption and the degree of personal freedom were more important than wealth.
Last July, UN General Assembly adopted a resolution proposed by Bhutan endorsing a holistic approach to development that could lead to individual happiness and well-being around the globe.
Lyonchhen Jigmi Y Thinley said “practical policy recommendations” from the conference will be gathered in a report to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and presented to participants at the “Rio plus 20” Earth Summit scheduled for June in Brazil. The conference closed with a statement by Lyonchhen assuring the floor that he will personally write to all head of states and government of the UN member countries to voluntarily adopt the recommendations to be included in their countries’ development policies. “We shall work together to initiate a global movement for happiness and we shall together make this movement a reality”. The conference ended with a standing ovation in honor of Lyonchhen Jigmi Y Thinley and concluded with prayers by spiritual leaders of Hindu, Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist faiths.