Bhutan has always had a unique approach to how it manages its affairs, from political leadership to social development. As Bhutan came into the modern age and began to develop, it adopted its own philosophy—Gross National Happiness—which has guided its development. The Fourth King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, introduced Gross National Happiness in 1972 on the premise that true development of a nation should not be based on technological or commercial development but on a holistic model that places people at its center.
At its core, Gross National Happiness is a responsible, human-centered paradigm focused on the well-being of all citizens. Gross National Happiness stands on four pillars: Good Governance, Equitable and Sustainable Development, Preservation of Culture, and Conservation of the Environment.
It was with conservation in mind that the Constitution of Bhutan was drafted to include a stipulation that 60 percent of land in Bhutan shall, for all time, remain under forest cover. Today, more than 70 percent of Bhutan remains forested, and a third of it constitutes national parklands. Conservation efforts must go further than simply demarcating these lands; they must protect the wildlife and the vast biodiversity that is found throughout the country. Bhutan is proud of its status as a carbon-negative country and as a global front-runner in conservation efforts. These efforts include demonstrating responsible approaches to energy production in the form of hydropower and to community conservation programs that engage the public in the process. Finally, although Bhutan stands on a positive footing for environmental protection and conservation, it is still deeply affected by global climate change. In this area, too, Bhutan is hoping to serve as an example of how to responsibly mitigate the associated damage and participate in productive conversation to combat further degradation of the environment.
Democracy was introduced in Bhutan in 2008, making it the youngest democracy to be established under peaceful measures. The development of democracy in Bhutan is under close watch by the rest of the world and is evolving as policymakers learn how to listen to and engage with their constituencies, and as citizens learn to be proactive and engaged in the democratic process for the first time.
Bhutan’s criteria for development are equal parts social and economic, whereby citizens have increased access to quality education, health care, and social services, as well as opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship. A crucial element to this growth goal is to ensure that these services and opportunities are available to the most disadvantaged populations in society.
In the quest for development, many countries in the developing world have sacrificed or neglected their culture and traditions in pursuit of GDP. Bhutan sees culture as central to its identity for its people and as a nation. The preservation of culture in Bhutan means the preservation of community, of shared values, and of shared history. Bhutan’s culture is found in its distinctly unique architecture, language, festivals, and rituals.