Seven years ago on my first visit to Bhutan, I was eager to learn more about Gross National Happiness (GNH) that seemed to be a cornerstone of the country's marketing efforts. After all, it sounded like something that was dreamed up around a conference table, not an authentic statement about a third world country! It seemed like an almost-mythical interpretation of Shangri-La.
Since the early 1970s, Bhutan has rejected Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as the only way to measure progress. In its place, it has championed a new approach to development, which measures prosperity through the spiritual, physical, social and environmental health of its citizens and natural environment. GNH balances economic development with the emotional and spiritual well-being of the country's people.
The government of Bhutan has taken their Buddhist values and woven them into the fabric of the culture by asking these four questions about virtually every new policy, building or decision:
1) Is it good for everyone?
2) Does it promote or preserve our culture?
3) Will it promote the long-term sustainability of our forests and environment?
4) Can it be implemented with good governance?
So how will you, as a traveler to Bhutan, experience GNH? The first thing you'll notice is that all buildings are similar, built to traditional design standards that are a part of Bhutan's cultural heritage, including the international airport at Paro. You also will notice that there are well-constructed schools and health care clinics everywhere, something that you don't necessarily see in other third world countries. You might also notice that there are almost no homeless people. Or that in place of plastic bags stores offer sewn cloth bags (because of the impact of plastic pollution in their many rivers). Or the vast amount of forests (the government has pledged to keep 60% of its landmass under forest cover in perpetuity.) Or you might witness some traditional masked-dance ceremonies that are designed to uphold and preserve the rich Buddhist culture. You might not notice - but it is true - that most agriculture is now organic (commercial pesticides will be banned by 2020). What you will certainly notice is the ease and comfort of both the Bhutanese people and the peacefulness that you feel as a traveler there.
Thakur Singh Powdyel, Bhutan's minister of education, says "GNH is an aspiration, a set of guiding principles through which we are navigating our path towards a sustainable and equitable society."
If you're interested in visiting the land of Gross National Happiness, let Wildland Adventures plan your journey so you can experience perhaps the world's most progressive country!