Learning life from the Bhutanese

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Learning life from the Bhutanese

Topic |  

cartoon editorialWHAT WOULD YOU SAY if a country says “happiness is more important than wealth”? That GDP (Gross Domestic Product) does not quite answer that which man is really looking for? Which is Happiness.

What would you say if most of the global nations who measure one another by an invention of the West: Gross Domestic Product – that only results in a world of serial chaos? Financial, ecological (disasters) and political (terrorism) crisis -one after the other occur in gay abandon.

What would you say that this country concluded -after decades of monarchy- that henceforth (despite its annual growth of the economy which is only 7%) they will measure the nation by GNH (Gross National Happiness) rather than GDP (Gross Domestic Product).

One would give them respect. That nation is Bhutan.


Their Prime minster had sent a Project team to study the Philippines’ (including Bohol) best practices in governance, media and environment under Trainserve. Meeting the Bhutanese made us realize we have much to learn from these “students” about life. What’s it all about Alfie? as the song goes.

When they survey GNH, they ask people questions like: “How much do you trust your neighbor?”, “Is lying justifiable?” or “Do you feel like a stranger in your family?”.

Meantime, the paragons of GDP growths like the USA and Japan have the highest suicide rates among nations. Their symbols of fame and wealth like the billionaire High Hefner, the doll Marilyn Monroe, the comic genius Robin Williams and singing queen Whitney Houston- said goodbye to life – in pain, they had to leave it artificially before their time.

The GNH is a “big idea” from a tiny nation of  only 800,000. The province of Bohol at 1.3 million people is even bigger. But the idea has gone traction among many nations and even the United Nations has taken a cue and made it part of the  evaluation of their projects for funding.

Material wealth, it seems, is not the only, and not even the most  important ingredient to well-being.  Does Bhutan’s developmental policy make sense?

It says- if you allow people to log your forests – your GDP rises but the environment and the future suffer. If the citizens take up the purchase-based modern living- it will  raise GDP due to consumption- but it will convert a country into a nation of unhealthy folks- which will make health care flourish and raise GDP even more.


If you pursue progress without regard for the environment- then budgets to repair roads, rehabilitate storm and earthquake-ravaged towns, do massive anti-flooding programs which will raise G (Government) spending in the GDP equation raises GDP. But for what? The Bhutanese asked. Logic 101, Watson.


Most Bhutanese are steeped in Buddhist spiritual values which places extreme reverence on the value of life.  The extreme practitioners do not even strike the branch of a tree needlessly because the tree to them  is a living thing.

They believe in reincarnation -and the risk of being reborn as a useless rat make them behave well now -in their relationships and acts. As Buddhists they are encouraged to think of death five times a day for five minutes.

It is not to instill fear of death but to accept its inevitability. And since it will happen- one has to live his best here and now before it comes. As the Christians also say “Whatever good you can do, do it now- for you shall pass this road only once”.


Being proponents of the Happiness Movement as an anchor for socio-economic development, do Bhutanese, therefore, not feel sad? Of course they do.

But unlike Westerns (and us influenced by them)- they accept “sadness as part of life.” That it will come and go while the Westerners try to avoid sadness and medicate it through drugs, sex, and a flurry of activities.


No wonder Bhutan has been blessed. They have a strong middle class and free education and health care because of tourism and selling power to neighbors coming from their huge hydroelectric plants.

Being up there in the Himalayas between India and China -they have huge lakes, rivers and falls that fuel both industries.  There is no traffic because they have mandated a two child policy and everyone obeys.

They bow before their king- who lives in a small house with a tiny salary but visits all his districts by foot and listen to their stories. He is God’s presence here on earth. Half of Bhutan is filled with verdant forests where tree cutting is a mortal sin.

No wonder what they breathe there is the opposite of that of EDSA.

Funny, the Bhutanese came in as students to know how we manage to run this chaotic nation of 103 million inhabitants -each with an idea why Rody,Mar , Grace or Jojo should be president- long after the counting is done.

We are contentious, we are self-centered, we have no serious view of the afterlife and view our friends as accessories to our success not partners to sing, laugh and have fun with.

We have a lot to learn about Gross National Happiness from the Bhutanese.

For comments: email to dejarescobingo@yahoo.com or bohol-rd@mozcom.com

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