Of late President Sarcozy and some European economists evinced keen interest in the Bhutan model of development with its emphasis on Gross National Happiness instead of Gross National Product. Bhutan model shifted focus of development from productivity to human well-being in four areas: sustainable economic development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the environment, and good governance -- based on Buddhist principles.
In the late fifties, E.F.Schumacher, a British economist, worked as economic consultant in Burma during U.Nu’s premiership. Influenced by “Right Livelihood”, one of the components of Buddha’s “Noble Eightfold Path”, he was among the first to argue that economic production was too wasteful of the environment and non-renewable resources, and that ever-increasing production and consumption -- the foundation of the modern economy -- is unsustainable. He criticized policy makers who measure success by the growth of GNP, irrespective of how the growth comes about or who it benefits. Schumacher’s view was ignored then, and now it seems prophetic, because of the many compounding ills confronting capitalism today. ‘Buddhist Economics’ forms one of the chapter of his book, “Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered.” Under the prevailing system people do not matter much, production and profit matter most. He advocated small is beautiful, and less is more. It is not likely people of advanced countries will settle for this, despite the most developed and rich countries not being able to make it to top ten of happy countries. It is tantamount to reversion of the current trend of progress reigned by the mantra of unlimited growth and conspicuous consumption.
Happiness is a very subjective attribute. It doesn’t depend on high income or standard of living or the convenience brought about by all sorts of modern gadgets. It doesn’t matter where you are at the present moment– in terms of place, job position, good health or fabulous material possessions etc. However, all this factors – combinedly or singly -- can be contributive to the feeling of happiness, at varying times and circumstances. Rat race for more, better, bigger; to catch up with Joneses, to live life king-size, acquisition of unlimited objects of desire, inflation of ego etc – and many more factors -- are involved in the perception of happiness. But none may be a lasting one. The mirage of happiness ever beacons further and further for more and still more. Happiness cannot be quantified, and is, in most cases, transitory. Whatever method applied to quantify may not be universal and reliable. In this hard-paced life, full of tension due to anxiety, worry and hurry to meet the deadlines, to outdo the peers, resulting in insomnia, high blood pressure, dependence on depressants, may not make one candidly admit being ‘unhappy’. Worry, anger, irritation, tension, annoyance may occur on daily basis – though not throughout the day continuously. These may not be construed as symptoms of lack of happiness. Under extreme cases of maladjustment at home or office, physical pain, prolonged depression may be recognised as unhappiness. If Michael Jackson were asked, it is unlikely if his reply would have been “not happy”. After all, he had his dream “Neverland Ranch” covering over 3,000 acres of land, housing variety of fantasy creations of human mind, and his net worth was more than $250 million before death. On the other hand, should a happy man need ten sleeping pills per night to induce a refreshing sleep and run 13 times for plastic surgery in a short life span of 50 years? And consume 30K pounds worth of medicine per month? But, he had billions of jubilant (?) fans spread all over the globe. It is not known how many of them were depressive, hooked to the drugs --not to talk of other mental aberrations.
Bhutan doesn’t fall into developed group at all – economy is based on agriculture and forest products. They are not exposed to dazzling array of luxurious goods and lifestyles. Choices and opportunities are limited. Therefore, so-called standard of living is low. Still, none may require a single tranquillizer pill to succumb to the lap of sumptuous slumber. Bhutan’s population is hardly 7, 00,000 – much less than many smaller cities of India. It is easy for the popular king to maintain close relations with his subjects.
Can Bhutan remain at this economic level for indefinite period and remain happy? Tapping only the available hydro potential may not bring long term solution. Sooner or later, it has to devise alternative methods for industrialization, and raise the standard of living.TV and Internet came to Bhutan only in 1999. Use of internet is not widespread as yet. Only future will tell, if they can resist onslaught of temptations, presented glaringly by TV and Internet on daily basis.
One salient feature of Bhutanese education is the introduction of ‘meditation’ in the school curriculum. Benefit of meditation is enormous. If it could be introduced worldwide it could bring mental peace and happiness among all. However, it cannot be imposed. It has to be voluntarily adopted for the purpose of enhancing personal efficiency and wellbeing in office and at home. It can be a very potent factor for boosting happiness quotient, if practiced in the right way. Can President Sarcozy adopt this aspect of Bhutan model for trial? It may be beneficial for any country. And, of course, for any individual, too.