The Happiest Place On Earth®
Disney owns the trademark, but the Kingdom of Bhutan has cornered the market for Gross National Happiness. Bhutan is a quirky little nation perched in the Himalayas between India and China with few roads, no railway, and a per capita income of around $1,400. It has the second worst soccer team in the world, beating Montserrat in FIFA’s World Cup match for that distinction; cigarette smoking is a crime; and television has only been broadcast throughout the kingdom since 2006. But they sure are happy.
Instead of the single, economic yardstick of Gross Domestic Product, Bhutan has always tracked its progress with a multidimensional happiness index. It’s only had a constitution since 2008, but as far back as 1729 the national law stated “if the government cannot create happiness for its people, there is no purpose for the government to exist.”
Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index takes into account all the usual standard-of-living data like literacy rates, life expectancy, employment rates, and housing stock. The index also incorporates holistic factors like quality of meals, social relations, ecological diversity, and individual ties to community and environment. The Bhutanese have decided that this comprehensive definition of happiness will elude them without a national policy of environmentally-sound and sustainable agriculture.
Bhutan is aiming to be the world’s first 100% organic nation.
In 2011, the government implemented policies that will convert all of the nation’s agricultural land into organic farms within 10 years; a goal that’s all the more significant in a country where two-thirds of its citizens are agricultural workers.
Bhutan is already well on its way there. As a poor, less developed country, many of Bhutan’s farmers engage in sustainable practices by default. Even if they can afford modern equipment and materials, the geographic remoteness and lack of transport have kept pesticides and synthetic fertilizers out of their hands. The majority use local water sources and homemade compost, and farm on land that’s untouched by industry, traffic, and other forms of urban blight. The government roadmap to organic conversion is primarily focused on rural education and organic certifications.
Bhutan should be an interesting laboratory for whether a nation can become organic.
And it will be just as interesting to learn if their Gross National Happiness Index trumps our Gross Domestic Product as the true measure of a nation’s well-being.
Read A Short Guide to the Gross National Happiness Index from the Centre for Bhutan Studies.
The nation’s road map to sustainable agriculture is found in The Royal Government of Bhutan’s Economic Development Policy.