Sandwiched between two giants, how Bhutan manages to become one of the happiest countries in the world

NL Today

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In a recent discussion, stakeholders discussed Bhutan’s journey of becoming a happy country, its challenges, and how the Himalayan nation is battling the pandemic

Kathmandu: Government’s focus on development but not at the cost of environment, conservation, culture, and religion, and good governance is behind Bhutan being one of the happiest countries in the world, stakeholders of the tiny Himalayan nation have said.

Speaking at a virtual discussion organized by Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF) South Asia, they said Bhutan has set happiness as its national goal and has adopted a balanced constitution that promotes liberty and happiness of every citizen. The discussion entitled “Liberty and Happiness in Bhutan” was organized by FNF South Asia on Tuesday.

“Bhutan might not be the happiest country in the world, but we have set happiness as a national goal. And the constitution has the mandate to make every citizen happy,” said Dr Passang Dorji, a member of the Parliament of Bhutan. 

The tiny Himalayan Kingdom sandwiched between India and China calculates “Gross National Happiness (GNH)”, which was coined by King Jigme Singye Wangchuck. Bhutan, with a population of less than 800,000, is seeking a balance between growth, development, and happiness.

 “When His Majesty coined the term GNH, he said the country would see development and changes would happen, but the country must not lose values for elders and religion,” said Dasho Palijor J Dorji, Deputy Minister, and Special Advisor, National Environment Commission.

Commenting on how Bhutan has been able to become one of the happiest countries, Dasho Palijor said if indicators like democracy, justice, good governance, and education go in the right direction, nations become happy.

Challenges ahead

With rising tension between India and China, panelists also stressed that Bhutan would face challenges with an increased conflict between two giant neighbors.

“There have been military clashes between India and China lately. As Bhutan is sandwiched between these two giants, it needs to become nimble in geopolitics,” said Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, a senior columnist.

Chaudhuri pointed out three challenges Bhutan is facing that might hamper its goal of happiness. “One is the India-China conflict, while climate change and unemployment among the young population are other major challenges Bhutan is facing,” he added.

With rising tension between India and China, panelists also stressed that Bhutan would face challenges with an increased conflict between two giant neighbors.

“Even though Bhutan is carbon negative country, it will suffer when other countries fail to protect their environment. Likewise, Bhutan is highly dependent on hydropower and tourism, so there needs to be diversification,” said Chaudhuri.

Reacting to Chaudhuri, Dasho Palijor said that Bhutan can’t employ every one of its educated citizens, and that breaks happiness. “Youths have traveled to foreign countries for employment opportunities, and they are helping the Bhutanese economy grow by sending remittances,” he added, expressing concerns that youths are ready to work in blue-collar jobs in foreign countries, but are not ready to do the same job in Bhutan.

Stopping foreign migration

With half of its population under the age of 35 years, the major challenge for Bhutan is to create jobs and stop youths from migrating in search of job opportunities.

“Our population is young, so we are focusing on technical and vocational training. This will help youths find jobs in Bhutan,” said MP Passang Dorji.

Controlling the pandemic

With just over 1,600 cases and one death, Bhutan has been successful in controlling the pandemic. “Due to a coordinated approach in leadership, we have been able to control the pandemic,” said Dasho Palijor.

When asked if Bhutanese are enjoying liberty at this time of the pandemic, Passang said: “You can enjoy liberty only when you value others liberty. “The moment things go out of control, there won’t be your liberty. The nation is in trouble, and the nation always comes in front of individuals. Restrictions are there for a short time,” he said, adding that the restrictions will give benefits for a long period.

No development at the cost of environment

“People say Bhutan only focuses on happiness, but not on development. This is a wrong statement,” said MP Passang. He stressed that the government has been focusing on development, but not at the cost of the environment and conservation.