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Below are some key indicators that contribute to supporting SDG18. They reflect a shift in values on national and international levels by placing happiness and well-being at the center of assessing a nation’s success. This change could easily call for self-reflection and personal agency as foundational to maintaining and strengthening this new focus. 








U.N. Resolution 65/309

On the 19th of July 2011, Bhutan’s model of GNH as the foundation for governance and social structure took the world stage. The United Nations General Assembly unanimously voted and placed “happiness” on the global agenda.  U.N. Resolution 65/309 (UNR 65/309) as it is known, empowered the Kingdom of Bhutan to convene a high-level meeting on happiness as part of the 66th session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.  As part of the initial ceremony, a number of internationally recognized leaders, including His Royal Highness the Price of Wales, Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, and economist Jeffrey Sachs, spoke for the Himalayan Kingdom.  Clearly, it was a landmark event for Bhutan; As Ryback (2012) states: [the resolution] represents a global public relations triumph and the realization of a hereditary ambition, initiated by King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck’s grandfather 40 years ago, to establish Gross National Happiness (G.N.H.) as an alternate model to Gross National Product (G.N.P.) as a measure of national progress. The former King, who initiated GNH, would have been pleased with UNR 65/309 which reflects the spirit of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and states: “the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal… [recognizing that the Gross Domestic Product—how most countries assess their well being—]“does not adequately reflect the happiness and well-being of people” (Ryback, 2012; UN News Centre, 2011). Additionally, UN Member States were called to “undertake steps that give more importance to happiness and well-being in determining how to achieve and measure social and economic development …[States were also encouraged to] pursue the elaboration of additional measures that better capture the importance of the pursuit of happiness and well-being in development with a view to guiding their public policies.”  (UN News Centre, 2011). As of September 2012, there have been Gross National Happiness conferences in Thailand, Canada, the Netherlands, and Brazil.


President Nicolas Sarkozy of France commissioned Stiglitz, along with the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and the French economist Jean-Paul Fitoussi, to conduct a study “of economic performance and social progress” that included diverse G.N.H. indicators, ranging from walking to reading to the frequency of love making.  “The kind of civilization we build depends on the way we do our accounts quite simply because it changes the value we put on things,” Sarkozy notes in his preface to the report. “And I am not just speaking about market value” (Ryback, 2012).  Ultimately, the country rejected adopting GNH as the instrument for measuring growth and national well being, choosing to stay with GDP as the primary indicator.  Jean-Philippe Cotis, the head of France’s statistics office said that in the middle of macroeconomic crisis, we need an indicator that captures in a rather sophisticated way the fluctuations of market activities,” he said. “It’s too complicated a subject to sum up in a single figure.”


One Country that has attempted to integrate GNH is Venezuela. In October of 2013, President Nicolas Maduro created the Deputy Ministry of Supreme Social Happiness.  The purpose of this agency is to continue the anti-poverty missions that had been created by the late President Hugo Chavez.  Considering that the country is chronically short of basic goods and medical supplies and that annual inflation is near 50 percent and the U.S. dollar fetches more than seven times the official rate on the black market (AP, 2013), it remains to be seen if this is a serious and committed endeavor or is simply some sort of smoke and mirror tactic to appear to be addressing some of the country’s very real socio-economic problems.  Some people believe this is just a ruse—in 2011, the Venezuelan based Social Investigation Group XXI (GIS)—which was very closely aligned with Chavez’s administration—conducted a thorough study which examined Venezuelans’ values in relation to gender difference, geographic mobility, community and participation, work, and religion aimed to examine the relationships between politics, culture, and social values in Venezuela (Pearson, 2011) and discovered that 82% of Venezuelans claim to be either “very happy” or “happy;”  If this were really true, it begs to be asked, why is there a need for an administrator and office for Supreme Social Happiness? 

Those who support the establishment of the Office of Supreme Social Happiness, however, do so with the belief that there is much work that needs to be done in order to shift the values of Venezuelan society. An epidemic that is quietly sweeping through the country and calling into question individual priorities is cosmetic surgery. With shortages of many basic products and soaring inflation, more and more women are mortgaging their houses, their cars, and juggling their finances in order to have cosmetic surgery and meet some social standard of beauty.  Sadly, the price these women pay in order to chase what some see as marketed perfection, continues to rise. But if the demand for augmented figures is any indicator, many women remain undeterred (Chalk & Neuman, 2013).  While this seems like a superficial illustration, it does call into question how meaning and happiness are being defined and whether or not Bhutan’s example of GNH could be of use in helping to restore all levels of national well-being.


Costa Rica

It is important to keep in mind that other countries have been holding high standards and ideals for their nation and citizens. In 2006 the Happy Planet Index (HPI) was created to measure what matters to people—their well-being in terms of living happy and healthy lives and what impacts the planet—the pressure that our resource consumption places upon the planet’s eco-system.  HPI measures progress towards a society that can support good lives and sustainable ecological systems on the planet.  HPI is modeled after GDP in that it uses a single number to establish a new compass for setting humanity on a path of real progress.

The 2009 HPI 2.0 report rated Costa Rica number one.  This was due in part to the country having one of the most developed welfare systems outside of Scandinavia, with clean water and adult literacy almost universal. In 1949, Costa Rica abolished its army and chose to invest the funds in social programs. This enabled the country to develop a strong “core economy” of social networks of family, friends and neighborhoods allowed by a sensible work–life balance and equal treatment of women. In addition, it is a beautiful country with rich protected natural resources.  99% of their energy comes from renewable sources and there is a carbon tax on emissions; as a result, deforestation has been dramatically reversed since the 1990s. (Marks, 2010).

While UNR 65/309 most definitely brought GNH to the forefront of global conversations, it is important to note that other countries have been consciously focusing on happiness and well being since before the 2011 initiative.  There have been NGOs and Academies (such as the Council on Economic Priorities, the Center for Partnership Studies (Caring Economy), The New Economics Foundation, and the Schumacher Center for a New Economics, to name a few) that have been focusing for many decades on the need to change the lens from which we assess national success and well-being.  What is particularly significant about this is that today, many people associate GNH with Bhutan. This in part is due to the initiative of Jean Timsit, a Paris-based lawyer and artist who provided the funding to publish a handbook on “operationalization of Gross National Happiness,” based on a conference held in Bhutan in 2004. It was this 750-page tome that brought further attention to Bhutan and helped to define and leverage G.N.H. onto the global agenda.  In the introduction, while still a Prince, the present day King was quoted as saying, “I believe that while Gross National Happiness is inherently Bhutanese, its ideas may have a positive relevance to any nation, peoples or communities — wherever they may be.”  As is being discussed in this paper, I have many questions regarding the correct attribution of GNH.

With the passing of UNR 65/309, King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck stated: “There cannot be enduring peace, prosperity, equality and brotherhood in this world if our aims are so separate and divergent…if we do not accept that in the end we are people, all alike, sharing the earth among ourselves and also with other sentient beings, all of whom have an equal role and stake in the state of this planet and its players.” The sheer hypocrisy of this statement makes it clear that Bhutan has much to be accountable for


From: Hsing, Y (2013). A Buddhist Approach to Management. Buddha’s Light International Association. Retrieved from:


1.      Equality under the Dharma:

The Buddha teaches that all sentient beings have Buddha nature and that all humans are inherently equal.  In effect, his teaching dismantled the societal caste system prevalent in the India at that time.  He states that all things arise from causes and conditions, not created by gods or God.  True deliverance depends on the Four Noble Truths and The Three Dharma Seals. Buddha frequently made the following comments: “I myself am just a member of the Sangha” and “I do not govern, the Dharma governs.”  Buddha never considered himself “leader,” rather he let the truth govern.  The Sangha community was ruled by the members’ respect for moral conduct.  Upon admission, each member had to give up his/her previous social status, wealth, fame, and other privileges.  All external classifications and differentiations were disregarded.  Members differed only in stages of internal cultivation.  The operation of the Sangha community was based on mutual respect and love, and sometimes on the order of seniority.  Thus, the bhiksus, bhiksunis, and the others each had their own rules.  When disputes arose, the “Seven Reconciliation Rules” made by the Buddha were followed to settle the conflict.     

2.      Decentralized Leadership:

The Buddha, as the head of the Sangha community, led by his teaching and by establishing the precepts for the group.  He selected knowledgeable and virtuous bhiksus and bhiksunis to be the “instructing“ monastics to teach the Dharma and precepts.  Among them, he further selected the elders to counsel, to advise, and to monitor the progress of the monastics under their supervision.   

3.      Shared Support and Responsibility:

When the initial Sangha of the five bhiksus was formed immediately after the Buddha’s enlightenment, the “Four Principles of Living” was laid down to guide them toward virtuous living: “Eat only food from alms, wear only cast-off clothing, abide only under trees, and take only discarded medicine.”  Further, the monastics were warned to shun eight evil possessions that were considered to be hindrances to their practice, i.e., houses and gardens, plants, grains and crops, servants and slaves, pets and animals, money and jewels, utensils and tools, and decorated beds.  As the size of the Sangha community increased, and in response to the problem of the rainy season and constant requests from their benefactors, the rules were modified to allow receipt of donated clothes, food, houses, and gardens.  But regardless of the summer retreat during the rainy season, and throughout ordinary daily life during the rest of the year, a communal form of living was maintained.  The communal rule required that except for each monastic’s own clothing and bowls, all other supplies, tools, bedding, houses, and gardens were public goods, not to be individually possessed. Repair and maintenance of equipment and tools were distributed among the members.  In each of the Sangha residences, an elder was elected to lead the daily operation, teach the Dharma, maintain the code of conduct, and channel any speech and information delivered by the Buddha.  Although the lifestyle changed somewhat over time, all Sangha communities still followed the basic principle of an alms system, as well as sharing support and responsibilities.

4.      Mutual Respect and Harmony:

Guided by the Dharma, the Sangha community practices the “Six Points of Reverent Harmony” in communal living.  They are: (1) doctrinal unity in views and explanations to ensure common views and understanding; (2) moral unity in observing the precepts to achieve equality for all under the rules, (3) economic unity in community of goods to effect fair distribution of economic interests, (4) mental unity in belief to provide mutual support in spiritual cultivation, (5) oral unity in speech to nurture com-passion and love, (6) bodily unity in behavior to assure nonviolence and harmonious living. 

5.      Communication and Interaction:

Buddha periodically convened all members of the Sangha community on the eighth and fourteenth or fifteenth of each month to recite the precepts.  Such gatherings provided an excellent opportunity for interaction among the members and a way of fostering shared values for productive and harmonious living.   

6.      Democratic Governing:  

The “Karma Assembly” system was the highest authority governing monastic life.  The goal of the system was to promote a democratic way of life.  The Karma Assembly Meetings were regularly convened on the fifteenth of each month.  At these meetings, members of the Assembly reviewed any violations of the precepts that occurred during the month, determined the appropriate discipline for the offender, and decided how it would be carried out.  There were two types of karma cases: (1) cases involving disputes and violations, and (2) cases not involving disputes and violations.  The former dealt with disputes and disagreements among monastics or violations of precepts in which right or wrong had to be determined.  The latter dealt with the appropriateness of the monastics’ daily behavior and their proper guidance, or the admission of a new member into the Sangha community.  The Karma Assembly provided a formal and rigorous mechanism to pro-mote fellowship, harmony, and mutual support of the Sangha community.  It enabled the community to become an ideal moral society where the four all-embracing virtues of giving, affectionate speech, beneficial deeds, and teamwork were always practiced.     


Associated Press (October 25, 2013). Venezuela Creates Happiness Agency. Huffington Post. Retrieved from:



Chalk, J. and Neuman, W. (November 2013) “Inflated Beauty in Venezuela.”  Within 5 Seconds, You Won’t Like Him.  By the Time He Laughs, You’ll Hate Him.  Upworthy


Pearson, T. (March 1, 2011) Poll Finds 82% of Venezuelans are “Very Happy” or “Happy”. News, Views, and Analysis. Retrieved from:


Ryback, T. (March 28, 2012) The U.N. Happiness Project. N.Y. Times. Retrieved from:


UN News Centre. (July 19, 2011) Happiness should have a greater role in development policy-UN Member States. Retrieved from: