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Gross National Happiness

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12AUG2013

Bhutan blog page large imageThe Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan measures prosperity by gauging its happiness levels, not GDP.

The term Gross National Happiness was first uttered as a casual suggestion in 1972 by Bhutan’s fourth Dragon King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck (who introduced significant political reforms during his reign). But his concept was taken seriously and the Centre for Bhutan Studies soon developed a sophisticated survey instrument to measure the population’s general level of well-being, opening Bhutan to the age of modernisation. He believed Gross National Happiness signified his commitment to building an economy that would best serve and promote the Buddhist spiritual values, the culture, the languages, and the physical, social and environmental health of the country and its citizens.

The belief that wellbeing should take precedence over material growth has remained a global oddity since its inception. But fast forward to the 21st Century, to a world spilling over with stricken economies, increasing social inequity and environmental destruction, and it seems the thinking of this tiny landlocked kingdom is catching on. Back in 2006, David Cameron stated that “It’s time we admitted that there’s more to life than money and it’s time we focused not just on GDP but on GWB – general wellbeing.”

On the subject of language preservation, linguistics student and native of Bhutan, Karma Tshering, has set up a project aimed at documenting and archiving Bhutanese languages destined to become extinct. This includes the ancient language of Olekha, a ‘Black Mountain Monpa’ dialect that is so rare, there is only one person still alive in Bhutan who speaks it fluently, an 80-year-old local woman in the remote village of Rukha – a 9 hour hike from the nearest road.

Together with partner and linguist Dr. Gwendolyn Hyslop, Tshering has visited the village over 3 years to note and phonetically record basic grammar, phrases, and day to day use of the Olekha language.
“First, we start with word lists, like how you say hair, eye, nose, and other body parts,” Tshering explains.“Then we compile lists containing animal names such as ox and chicken.”
Their work is passed on to Bhutan’s Dzongkha Development Commission for safe keeping.

With Bhutan’s wide ethnic diversity, most Bhutanese speak at least five or six languages.The national language is Bhutanese (Dzongkha), one of 53 languages in the Tibetan language family. The script, here called Chhokey (“Dharma Language”), is identical to classical Tibetan. English is the language of instruction in schools and Dzongkha is taught as the national language. Most Bhutanese speak at least 5 or 6 languages of the 24 languages currently spoken in Bhutan.

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