Happiness and public policy

Happiness and public policy

The International Herald Tribune

Bangkok meeting discusses role for happiness in public policy

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

BANGKOK, Thailand: Officials and scholars taking to heart the maxim “money can’t buy you happiness” convened Wednesday to discuss whether economic achievements alone are a satisfactory indicator of citizens’ well-being.

Participants in the International Conference on Happiness and Public Policy in Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, discussed the concept of gross national happiness, or GNH, which contends that global development cannot focus solely on economic prosperity, growth and productivity.

“Happiness is the essence of life,” Thai Deputy Prime Minister Paiboon Wattanasiritham said in a speech. “It is intimately linked with the quality of life and the society in which we live. Concentrating on gross domestic product alone does not necessarily lead to well-being.”

The term gross national happiness was coined by former Bhutan King Jigme Singye Wangchuck more than 30 years ago to measure a country’s well-being.

Recently, the isolated Buddhist kingdom between India and China has actively championed the concept, promoting a growing global movement calling for the transformation of conventional development policies to take into consideration happiness and similar unconventional indicators. The idea received a receptive hearing in Thailand.

The four pillars of gross national happiness are cultural promotion, equitable economic development, good governance and environmental conservation.

The use of GNH has positively affected Bhutanese, said Lyonpo Jigme Thinley, minister of cultural affairs and former prime minister of Bhutan, which is playing a major role at the two-day conference.

“The Bhutanese experience is being discussed and perhaps it has come to provide inspiration to others,” he said. “The pursuit of happiness does not have to result in the dismantling of the economic order. It simply has to do with balancing our process of development with the development that also caters to the needs of the mind.”

The more than 300 participants at the conference will compare countries’ education levels, life expectancies and standards of living to determine development approaches to boost happiness.

An International Conference on Gross National Happiness – the third – will be held in northeastern Thailand this November. Bhutan hosted the first conference in February 2004 while a second was held in Canada in June 2005.