Address by Hon’ble Lyonchhen at the Reception-cum-Dinner for Conference on Happiness and Economic Development at the Convention Centre on 9 August, 2011 at 6.30 p.m.

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to the three-day conference on Happiness and Economic Development. The idea of this conference was conceived in New York last year with my dear friend and guide, Professor Jeffrey Sachs, following the initial response of the UN General Assembly to Bhutan’s recommendation that it consider the inclusion of Happiness as the Ninth Millennium Development Goal. Despite the Professor having had to go on numerous missions around the world, working on one crisis after another including the debt crisis in Greece, Famine in North Africa and the US economic woes, I am grateful that he has not only kept his pledge but pursued it vigorously to make this important event happen. I believe the only reason why he and so many of you have made time to be here is because of your conviction that this conference is a worthwhile endeavor – that happiness is important and that we need to help society to understand it and find ways to pursue it.

I am thankful to all of you for having accepted our invitation to come and ponder the subject of happiness and its relevance to human society that is hurtling itself and all life forms, with acceleration, to an end that is not of our choice and about which there is growing uncertainty. The Bhutanese people are very happy that you have agreed to do so in our country which, guided by the notion that happiness is the ultimate value to aspire for, has made it the purpose of development and change ever since our former King, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck ascended the throne in 1972. As a GNH aspiring nation, we are now almost forty years old. Having stayed on this path thus far and seeing how little we have lost, and in fact gained, we are emboldened to imagine that if all of humanity were to pursue happiness or what is meaningful and fulfilling, the world need not be as anxious about its future. To this end, your presence and your work make us more determined to carry on.

It gives me immense pleasure to report to this gathering that there are over forty international participants, all stalwarts in the search for a more rational way of life. They come from Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, India, Japan, Thailand, the UK, and the USA. In each of these countries, happiness is gaining widespread recognition at the national or sub national levels.

I would like to acknowledge some of them:

Lord Richard Layard has been actively writing on the economics of happiness with considerable influence on British public policy and individuals across the world.

Professor John Helliwell has been carrying out researches and sharing his impressive findings on subjective wellbeing.

In Australia, Professor Robert Cummins, John Hall, John Wiseman, and Winton Bates have been gaining good ground in promoting GNH through their work.

Susan Andrews has been actively coordinating the propagation of happiness through her Future Vision Eco-village, Brazil. She was the co-host of the fifth GNH conference held in Brazil. This vast country and its people see themselves as naturally inclined to be happy and it was no wonder that GNH became an important element during the campaign of the two presidential candidates in the last elections.

I would also like to acknowledge the contributions made by GNH USA led by Tom Barefoot. The group is now planning the second GNH conference in June 2012 in Vermont, USA.

Several institutions in Canada have been engaged in developing a new measure for sustainability, wellbeing and quality of life. Foremost among these is GPI Atlantic in Nova Scotia under the leadership of Dr. Ron Coleman who, in recent years, has been devoting considerable time and energy in supporting GNH operations here in Bhutan together with his dedicated team. He is represented here today by Ms. Karen Hayward who is the Senior Researcher at GPI Atlantic.

In China, it is heartening to note that national happiness index is playing an increasingly important role in the process of making public policy. It has held several meetings and conferences on GNH, but unfortunately, the two Chinese Economists who had confirmed to participate in the conference were unable to attend at the last minute. However, I am happy to welcome a young research student from China.

In Japan, academics like Meiko Nishimizu, Takayoshi Kusago, Junko Edahiro, Shigeru T. Otsubo and many others have been actively promoting GNH in a society that, more than any other country, is realizing the limits and follies of the conventional economic paradigm. I am happy to note the participation of Prof. Shigeru T. Otsubo and his team from Nagoya University.

I wish to applaud the contributions made by Hans and Wallapa Van Willenswaard who are not only promoting happiness to a widening circle in Thailand, but in the greater Mekong region. They hosted the third GNH conference in Bangkok in 2007.

In India, keen interest is being evinced by some sections including the corporate sector. It gives me immense pleasure to welcome our friend and neighbor H.E. Mr Tarun Gogoi, Chief Minister of the State of Assam in India. He returned as Chief Minister for the third time having stood, among others, on a GNH platform. I am equally pleased to welcome Mr. Digvijaya Singh, General Secretary of All India Congress Committee. I see his participation as an expression of the serious interest of his party and the Indian leaders in GNH and Happiness.

I would also like to share with you some of the inroads that happiness has made on the international front aided by the profusion of persuasive knowledge and publications on the subject of wellbeing by academics, economists, scientists, politicians, corporate leaders and thinkers.

Since the UN Millennium Summit in 1998 in Seoul, where GNH travelled beyond its national boundary for the first time, the world has begun to take happiness and well being seriously. Propelled by your contributions, 5 international conferences and many regional and national conferences on GNH in Europe, North America, South America and Asia, GNH or happiness has spawned a growing number of advocates and enthusiasts across the world. This has been bolstered by the series of conferences on Measuring True Societal Progress organized on every continent and thereafter, internationally by the OECD over the last few years which incidentally, gave me the opportunity of my first meeting with Lord Richard as a member on a panel. The OECD has now launched “your better life index” that will let people measure and compare their lives in a way that goes beyond traditional GDP numbers.

Encouraged by such success and troubled by our addiction to the GDP opiate and obsession with its quarterly growth metrics that are, in our humble opinion, behind the increasing frequency and magnitude of manmade and natural disasters, Bhutan has persisted with the international community to consider the idea of happiness as the basis and measure of human progress. We were heartened when the Ulanbataar Declaration at a meeting of the LDCs in April 2010, endorsed GNH. Subsequently, the 67th Session of the 62-Member UNESCAP endorsed the outcome of the Ulanbataar Declaration. Most recently, on 19th July 2011, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted, without a vote, the resolution, Happiness: Towards a Holistic Approach to Development as a stand-alone resolution. This established the relevance and pursuit of happiness as a universal goal and as a basis for guiding societal change and development.

Happiness is now accepted by the international community as a timeless, common vision that binds all humanity, rich and poor. The world has agreed, at least in letter, that just as GDP has guided our understanding and definition of economics for nearly 70 years, there are compelling economic, social and ecological reasons to define and pursue a new kind of economics that makes sustainable human wellbeing and happiness its purpose and core function. The presence of leading thinkers and decision makers at this conference stands as testimony to this new realization.

You honor us and inspire us with your presence. And you have a huge task ahead of you in the next few days. There are many questions to be asked and answers found. I do not expect all the questions to be answered at this conference but I am hoping that we will have started a consultative process that will aid the UN. The outcome of this meeting will be submitted to the UN Secretary General and a panel discussion is to be coordinated by Bhutan in New York in early 2012. This will hopefully, be a regular UN event that will aid member states in updating and refining their national policies and programmes toward happier families, happier countries and a happier world.

Just in case some of you may wish to know how Bhutan is treading the GNH path and how we are doing in this regard, you will be happy to be informed that I do not intend to make a report today. May you be satisfied with the arrangement that my most recent “State of the Nation” report to the Parliament will be distributed to all the guest participants. This report, as usual, is crafted in the frame of the GNH development paradigm and states the level of achievement toward a GNH economy and society.

Allow me however, to leave you with this provocation:

Happiness is not only an end in itself. Its pursuit will change the way we live, the way we perceive our needs, extract resources, process & convert them to goods and the way we trade them, acquire them, use them and discard them when their life is spent. It will change the way we employ the marketplace as opposed to being oppressed by it, and give back to us control over our own life – namely, free choice. It will moderate our desire and consumption habits and help us rein in our insatiable greed. It will make us understand that the ultimate end we aspire for in life is obtainable without costs to anyone – to the family, community, to the environment and indeed, to other countries, and thereby opening the prospects of a stable and peaceful world.

Happiness is a good that we can enjoy without causing envy or pain to others. It is not a relative thing. As we pursue happiness, we will come to understand that relationships are key determinants of happiness and find cause to value our family, friends and colleagues. In the process, we will rebuild our dying communities and crumbling society and curb our spirit for mutually destructive competition in the zero sum game. We will realize that most of what we have been striving for and accumulating are not real wealth and that we need to redefine it qualitatively and quantitatively. Real wealth must constitute what matters to wellbeing and what is durable, not just material illusions that can disappear in a financial crisis, a scam, a wrong decision or with one’s changing fortunes.

Happiness is a sustained feeling of compassion and calm fulfillment that we experience when others around us are happy especially when one has played a part. And that is what makes happiness remarkable and good. You can’t have it unless others have it. You have to be prepared to cause happiness for others. In fact, this is the reason why our former King chose Happiness over other states of being such as wellbeing or contentment that are seen to be half way measures and are passive at best. There is more about the self in these and little or no persuasion to be concerned about the condition of others.

In the case of wellbeing, it is what one ought to justly strive for as individuals and what the good state must support and facilitate. As for contentment, we see it as a mental or attitudinal ability to accept any condition, be it good or bad. It is a passive mental state that causes no motivation to help improve the life of others or even that of self. These conditions do not bring out the interdependent nature of society and life.

Happiness, which has a far broader societal context, is an active state of mind that compels one to want to strive for the wellbeing of others so that at an enlightened selfish level, one can be happy. It is this desire for the collective wellbeing and resultant happiness of the society as a whole that forms the essence and spirit of Bhutan’s development paradigm – GNH. It is what drives my King, the Royal Government and many of us who are firm adherents of GNH. It is this understanding of happiness that is behind the vision of a GNH society.

I would like to thank you all for being here at this important event not only to Bhutan but also for the human society.

I pray that the discussions in the next three days will be fruitful and give us all cause for happiness.


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