Message on Happiness Day

Today is a big day for Bhutan … and the world.

Today, people all over the world will come together to observe the first International Day of Happiness. My family and I join the people of Bhutan in celebrating the first ever global happiness day.

I thank the prime minister and the government for their hard work and perseverance in advocating Gross National Happiness at home and abroad. I congratulate them for for successfully promoting happiness in the international agenda, and for pushing the United Nations to adopt the resolution on happiness. Their efforts have led to the adoption of the International Day of Happiness.

Today is a good time to think about our priorities – to ask ourselves what is important and what we aspire to do with our lives. It is also a good time to take a deliberate break from regular work; to spend time with family, friends and loved ones; to be true to oneself, free of material ambitions and insatiable desires.

Today is also a good time to reflect on Gross National Happiness and how it was born. It is a time, a proud time for all Bhutanese, to remember that His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, gave the world a new idea, a new calling. So today is a time to offer thanks to the Fourth Druk Gyalpo for gifting GNH to Bhutan and to the whole world. On this happy day, I urge all Bhutanese to offer prayers for our beloved Kings.

Tashi delek!

 

Ambassador for life?

Should Parliament make the Prime Minister GNH Ambassador for Life?

The proposal to make the Prime Minister GNH Ambassador for Life was tabled by the Speaker. But it was not discussed in the National Assembly. Yet, the proposal was forwarded to the National Council. And it was almost included in the Assembly’s resolutions as a proposal that had, more or less, been accepted. The Speaker also made indirect reference to the proposal in his address during this session’s closing ceremony.

So should Parliament make the Prime Minister GNH Ambassador for Life? No. First, the Parliament did not follow due process. Second, no one knows what “GNH Ambassador for Life” entails – what it means, and how much it will cost. Third, the nominee is a serving member of the Parliament – such titles should be reserved for past members only, if at all, and only after they’ve proven themselves. Fourth, the nominee is currently under investigation for the Gyelpozhing land scam case. And Fifth, it is outside the scope of the Parliament’s authority.

That authority, to appoint a GNH ambassador for life, belongs to His Majesty the King. According to Article 2, Section 16(a) of the Constitution: “The Druk Gyalpo, in exercise of His Royal Prerogatives, may: award titles, decorations, dar for Lhengye and Nyi-Kyelma in accordance with tradition and custom.”

Lyopno Khandu Wangchuk, the economic affairs minister, however, claimed, the Assembly, that a broader, more liberal interpretation of the Constitution would allow the Parliament to bestow that title to the PM.

I’m not sure. The government has consistently called for a broader, liberal interpretation of the Constitution. And the opposition party has consistently maintained that doing so would be dangerous, especially if those doing the “broad, liberal interpreting” are the very ones who stand to benefit.

Take Article 2, Section 16(a) of the Constitution, for instance. If a liberal interpretation of this provision is taken to mean that other institutions can also, in addition to His Majesty, grant titles and decorations, imagine how the subsequent provisions could be interpreted.

Article 2, Section 16(b) states that: “The Druk Gyalpo, in exercise of His Royal Prerogatives, may: grant citizenship, land kidu and other kidus”.

And Article 2, Section 16(c) states that: “The Druk Gyalpo, in exercise of His Royal Prerogatives, may: grant amnesty, pardon and reduction of sentences.”

Several commentators took exception to my last post, Rule of the mob. Think again. What is preferable? Rule of the mob? Or rule of the law?

What we really need

Our country is going through an unprecedented economic crisis. So why is the government establishing a Secretariat for the new economy”for the United Nations? Instead, what we need is an office – a war room – dedicated to planning and directing the recovery of our economy.

And why is the prime minister preparing to “make a statement promoting the vision for a new economic system” for the world? What we really need – desperately – is a head of government who is genuinely and fully committed to understanding, planning and directing the recovery of our economy.

GNH and Bhutan

Here’s an insightful cartoon from Bhutan Observer. The message is loud and clear. There’s no need to elaborate.

But one dangerous element is missing in the murky background: the rupee crunch and the growing economic crisis, about which the prime minister has not yet uttered a word.

 

Walk the talk!

Careful

South Korea is home to 50 million people. They have the 13th largest economy in the world and are a member of the G-20. They are the world’s leading exporter of some of the best electronics (think of Samsung), home appliances (LG), cars (Hyundai Kia) and ships (Hyundai). They have hosted the Olympics, the World Cup and the Asian Games. They have the world’s best education system, enjoy one of the highest internet penetration rates, and boast a popular culture that has taken much of Asia by storm.

But in spite of all their successes, South Koreans are still grappling to identify themselves. And try as they might, they have not yet been able to brand their country successfully.

On the other hand, Bhutan, a small country tucked away in the Himalayas with barely 600,000 people and with one of the smallest economies in the world, possesses a powerful brand. Not may people know about Bhutan, but those who do know – almost every one of them – associate our country with GNH and happiness. GNH is a powerful brand, one that is the envy of some of the richest and most powerful nations.

The GNH brand was not created overnight. Instead it developed gradually – naturally and effortlessly – over several decades, during the period that our beloved monarchs worked tirelessly to improve the social and economic conditions of our people in an equitable, just and sustainable manner.

Today, however, that brand, GNH, is being undermined on two fronts. When we talk, we overuse GNH, and by overdoing it, we risk demeaning GNH to a hollow slogan, a trite cliché. But when we work, we ignore GNH, and by not practicing what we preach, we risk making our own people skeptical and cynical of GNH and its promises.

The GNH brand is a national asset. We must treasure it. We must nurture it. And we must celebrate it. But we must also remain faithful to it. For that, we, ourselves, must first understand what it really means, and then we, collectively, must work hard at putting it into effect.

Otherwise, we will diminish our brand image. And, as a small country, with barely 600,000 people and with one of the smallest economies in the world, we will find it exceedingly difficult to rebrand ourselves. And we will find it impossible to revive the GNH brand.

“Tick tock KABOOM”

Our hope

Youth crime is a growing problem in our kingdom. And according to the prime minister, “the answer lies in GNH.”

I’m happy that the prime minister has acknowledged the problem: that youth crime is real and that it is growing.

And I’m happy that he has an answer to that problem: GNH.

A good segment of our youth, especially those living in Thimphu, are in trouble. They are scared. They are anxious. And they are desperate.

So if GNH is the answer, let’s use it.

But if GNH isn’t the answer, let’s admit it, let’s look for solutions that could work, and let’s get cracking.

Reports of youth violence, vandalism, theft, drug abuse, rape, gang fights, prostitution, murder and suicides are on the increase. But what we know from the media may only be the tip of the iceberg. The reality, as Xochitl Rodriguez found out, could actually be worse.

Xochitl spent some time in Changjiji last year. And she blogged about what she saw – the suffering and desperation of our children. I’m reproducing her entire article here for our collective reference, and as a reminder of the magnitude and urgency of the work at hand.

[Continue Reading…]

GNH vs GPH

Really growing happiness

Yeshey Dorji, a prolific blogger (and an excellent photographer), weighed in on minister Khaw Boon Wan’s controversial comments by concurring with the view that since we want to emulate Singapore, for us Singapore could well be the Shangri-la.

But regardless of where Shangri-la may lie, Au Yeshey admits to finding GNH confusing, and raises the alarming prospect that GNH may actually undermine personal happiness. This is what he writes:

“GNH, GNH. GNH – Oh God, it is so confusing. This GNH has me totally baffled. The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that the principles of GNH are the antithesis to GPH – Gross Personal Happiness.

“At one point soon, we must all calmly sit down and debate on the issue: Can GNH contribute to GPH; if not, what is the point? Can GNH be achieved without usurping GPH? Is GNH more important than GPH?”

Au Yeshey Dorji is not alone. GNH has indeed become complicated. This simple, straightforward idea, which has quietly guided our country’s development till now, seems to have suddenly become an animated metaphysical commentary on how to make the whole world a happier place.

So let’s go back to the basics, and relearn GNH.

This is how His Majesty the King explains GNH:

“Today, GNH has come to mean so many things to so many people but to me it signifies simply – Development with Values.”

This is how Simpleshow describes it.

And this is how Mieko Nishimizu sees it:

“A philosophy that sets the mandate of government as removing obstacles of public nature to enable individual citizen’s pursuit of happiness.”

But what about Au Yeshey’s important question: “Can GNH contribute to GPH?”

Dr Nishimizu would answer “Yes!” In fact, just last week, she delivered a lecture at RIM telling us how Ina Foods, a  business company in rural Japan, has embraced GNH principles to make their employees happier, and how, in the process, the company itself has become more sustainable and very profitable.

Happy people, making money, in a sustainable way – perhaps Shangri-la is in Ina!

Food for thought

Shangri-la's?

Khaw Boon Wan, a Singaporean minister, recently declared that “Bhutan is not the Shangri-la on earth”, and that the Bhutanese are an “unhappy people” for who “Singapore could well be the Shangri-la!”

Mr Khaw’s remarks, which were made in Singapore’s parliament, have upset a lot of people in our country. That is natural. He has attacked our image. He has challenged GNH. And he has insulted our people. So, many of us are angry.

Even so, we should listen to him. And if what he has said carries even a grain of truth, we should listen carefully. We should, for instance, listen very carefully when he says that we are a tiny nation sandwiched between giants and that, as such, self-determination and self-reliance are difficult to achieve, especially when we can barely eke out an economy for ourselves.

And we should listen very, very carefully when he points out that our people are “toiling in the field, worried about the next harvest and whether there would be buyers for their products.”

We’ve become used to lapping up international praise, and without even pausing to consider whether or not we deserve that adulation. But on the other hand, we are quick to condemn the occasional criticism. We shouldn’t. If critical remarks are insightful and constructive, we should, as Business Bhutan put it, receive them as valuable “food for thought.”

GNH vs GDP

GDP over GNH

How important is GNH to the government? In the prime minister’s State of the Nation address (which, incidentally, sounded more like a political campaign speech than a statement by the head of government) GNH was mentioned 14 times. Plus he made 6 separate references to happiness. On the other hand, he mentioned GDP just once, and that to caution against being “swayed onto the GNP/GDP path.”

How important, in reality, is GNH to the government? In the finance minister’s budget report (which explains how the government will finance its policies) GDP was mentioned no less than 46 times. And GNH? That was mentioned six times, twice of which was to justify increasing taxes.

GNH is …

Do you have a favorite GNH quote? Or an anecdote on Gross National Happiness? If so, please share them here. It will help me prepare for an upcoming conference.