Imagine a kingdom where the benevolent ruler declares that Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product, and devotes more of the country’s budget to education, and environmental and cultural health, than to economic development.

There is such a country: the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, and the first movie ever to be filmed there, “Travellers and Magicians,” is currently showing in Seattle one week only, at the Varsity Theater (in the University District) through Thursday March 10th.

We’ve posted items about happiness and how it can be measured, and we’re encouraged that this is getting attention world-wide. Last year, Bhutan hosted the first international conference on Gross National Happiness (see conference procedings here😉 the second annual conference is scheduled for June 2005 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Time magazine offers a brief introduction to the subject:

  • King Wangchuck’s idea that public policy should be more closely tied to wellbeing – how people feel about their lives – is catching on. “There is a growing interest in some policymaking circles in looking at these measures,” says Richard Easterlin, economics professor at the University of Southern California.

    “We have been misguided in dismissing what people say about how happy they are and simply assuming that if they are consuming more apples and buying more cars they are better off.” There are efforts to devise a new economic index that would measure wellbeing gauged by things like satisfaction with personal relationships, employment, and meaning and purpose in life, as well as, for example, the extent new drugs and technology improve standards of living.

    The independent London-based think tank New Economics Foundation is pushing the implementation of a set of national wellbeing accounts that would tote up life satisfaction and personal development as well as issues such as trust and engagement. The accounts would also include liabilities, such as stress and depression.

    Alternet has a good post giving some context for growing world interest in gross national happiness; Orville Schell, dean of graduate school of journalism at U.C. Berkeley, visited Bhutan in 2000, one year after the legalization of television, and wrote a thoughtful you-are-there style article about Bhutan’s past and present. A taste:

    “The real appeal of Bhutan is that we feel human,” says Tshewang Dendup, a graduate of the documentary film program at the University of California, Berkeley, who now works at the Bhutan Broadcasting Service. “Maybe we are somewhat isolated from the world, but we feel part of a living community that is not just connected by wires. That’s why 95 percent of us exchange students return home. By and large, you would have to say people are happy here.”