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The Gross National Happiness Principles of Bhutan

Posted Jan 22nd, 2019

Bhutan's Gross National Happiness Index is a holistic approach to the notion of progress that gives equal weight to economic and non-economic aspects of well being.

You want to be an effective leader by focusing on high value work and empowering others to do good work and feel valued and motivated. Yet you feel exhausted, overwhelmed, frustrated that you can’t get on top of the daily grind and dedicate your best energy to strategic direction, bringing others along and innovative ideas.

What if you had the time, tools and organizational support to plan, prioritize and develop others? The small country of Bhutan has a unique approach to this kind of leadership which I would like to share.

Recently I spent 6 weeks in the tiny precious country of Bhutan, teaching English language and literature to students in Grades 7-10. 

I fell in love with this country 22 years ago when I was part of a trekking group exploring remote areas in the northwest part of this mountainous country, devoid of roads and in pristine wilderness. At that time, we visited two different, isolated tribal villages, but mostly hiked and camped in the valleys and high mountains, with only our trail yaks, wild boar and takin for company.

We returned 3 years later for a different trek in the central part of the country where we also took part in several colourful Buddhist festivals replete with masks, traditional dancing and local foods. We climbed up to the sacred monastery of Taksang, built into a cliff above the city of Paro, where Buddhism is said to have been introduced when Guru Rinpoche arrived on this site from Tibet in the 17th century.

Bhutan's Gross National Happiness Index

At that time, I was intrigued to learn about the progressive social and economic policies introduced by the reigning King Jigme Wangchuk 4 and the principles he devised to form the Gross National Happiness Index (GNHI).

I was always looking for an opportunity to return and live more closely with the people so as to learn more about if and how these principles have been embedded in people’s habits and way of life.

In the meantime, King Jigme convinced his people to create a democratic government and passed the royal reins to his son Jigme Wangchuk 5, who had just turned 40. Together, and in partnership with the new government Ministries, they created and implemented the GNHI.

As a leadership coach here in North America, I spend a great deal of time helping clients examine the ways in which they balance task, strategy and relationship in their business and personal lives, and ways in which to achieve flexibility, resilience and authenticity.

In our environment of constant change, ambiguity, complexity and ambitious targets, it is easy to be pulled off centre. Time management is not only about productivity. I prefer to use the term time-use as it is about setting and delivering on priorities that are aligned with both strategy and values. Being centred in a frequent review of how we use our time in accordance with what we value, allows us to lead with authenticity, courage and conviction.

The 4 Pillars of the Gross National Happiness Index

The 4 Pillars of the Gross National Happiness Index were devised to provide a foundation for the citizens of Bhutan to take care of themselves and those they lead or love, as well as to live in harmony with the environment. They are:

  1. Good Governance. We design and implement a number of tools and processes across all organizations and institutions to ensure that our core values are embedded in social policy and programs.
  2. Sustainable Socio-Economic Development. In order to build a thriving economy, we assign equal value to the social and economic contributions of families and to their leisure time pursuits.
  3. Preservation and Promotion of Culture. We create and nurture a culture that maintains and further develops our cultural identity, knowledge and practices, and will overcome challenges and difficulties from other norms and ideals.
  4. Appreciation and Protection of Ecological Diversity. We protect and care for our land, waters and air, because in addition to providing critical resources such as water and energy, our natural environment also contributes aesthetic beauty and healing powers to all of us, through colour, light, oxygen, untainted breezes and silence in nature’s sound.

In a series of blogs, I will address each of these Pillars, or Principles and suggest ways that we in North America could learn from them as we struggle to manage our lives at work and home more successfully.

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