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Gross National Happiness: An Interview with Dr Ha Vinh Tho

Firstly, happy International Day of Happiness to you all! As we’ve recently highlighted on our blog, the United Nations (UN) International Day of Happiness is on Thursday 20th March 2014. As part of our celebrations of this special occasion we have been sharing posts on happiness, wellbeing, and different approaches to achieving high quality of life. In this post we share an inspiring interview with Dr Ha Vinh Tho, Program Director for the Gross National Happiness Centre in Bhutan.

By Thea Platt, NOW Project Manager

Once upon a time there lived a young king in the snowy mountains of Bhutan who had a vision. His vision was of a land where the progress of the nation was measured by the happiness of its of people. Its prosperity was reflected by the wildness and breadth of its forests, its wealth could be boasted by the kindness shown to strangers, and its education system shone through the high grades of compassion performed by its children. Such a world is surely one of fairy tales, a utopia one could only dream of – or is it?

The term ‘Gross National Happiness’ (GNH) was coined by a real king - His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the Fourth King of Bhutan back in the early 1970s. This king realised that the existing development paradigm – primarily measured through Gross Domestic Product (GDP) - did not consider the simple yet ultimate goal of every human being: happiness. The king wanted to change this, and had a vision of the happiness and wellbeing of the people of Buthan becoming the ultimate objective of the country’s development.

Recently, I met Dr Ha Vinh Tho, the Program Director for the Gross National Happiness Centre (GNHC). It is his mission to carry this vision forward today. You can learn more by watching the video interview  with Dr Tho below.


The aim of the GNHC is to show the world the development philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH) in practice. The Secretary of Buthans’ Gross National Happiness Commission gave the following explanation of why the centre was founded: "We needed a home for this vision, this philosophy; a place where one can go and invite this philosophy, practice it, and reflect on it’’. The GNHC, set in breathtakingly beautiful rural Bhutan, provides such a place.

Dr Tho told me that happiness is a skill that can be taught, that social and emotional learning, mindfulness, and the development of care and compassion are central to the flourishing of the human being. The GNHC is learning how to apply this across a country, and wants to share its knowledge with the world. The most important message to those of us living in the West is that Dr Ha Vinh Tho believes this way of development is not beyond the reach of non-Buddhist secular countries and societies. We therefore have reason for hope, great hope for a happier world. Indeed, it is something we should  urgently move towards. As Dr Tho argues, "Happiness is now or never".

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