THE THIRD INTERNATIONAL Conference on Gross National Happiness (GNH) was held in Thailand from Nov. 22 to Nov. 28 at Nong Khai Province and Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. The conference was an attempt to launch three changes in the form of a social movement: a paradigm shift, institutional transformation and structural change.
One outstanding feature of GNH -- as opposed to using gross national product (GNP) to measure the quality of life -- is its focus on the Eastern world in an attempt to deconstruct the long-standing practice of viewing the world largely through Western perspective.
The concept of happiness as the ultimate goal is common to both Eastern and Western religions and philosophies. Unfortunately, capitalism has narrowly defined the quality of life in economic terms, as measured by GNP, putting excessive emphasis on anthropocentrism and materialism.
As such, the "invisible hands" directing the market has turned into "invisible feet" that trample on society, producing the phenomenon of "poverty within prosperity" as well as incurring other social costs. In fact, some have defined GNP as "gross national pollution." The incurred social costs are diametrically opposed to the core values of happiness: dignity, sensibility, faith, reassurance and hope.
Bhutan took the lead in promoting the GNH movement in an attempt to pursue happiness at the national level. The king of Bhutan set an example by partaking in the movement organized by the Center for Bhutan Studies.
The movement covers eight areas: psychological well-being, health, balanced use of time, education, cultural diversity, good governance, communal vitality, ecological diversity and resilience and living standard.
Bearing in mind that the government is responsible for connecting public opinions to these domains to create happiness on a structural level, Bhutan set up two commissions -- the Royal Civil Service Commission and the Anti-Corruption Commission -- to carry out the three changes in order to integrate and expand the scale of happiness.
Since 2004, when it began hosting international conferences on GNH, Bhutan has become a focus of discussion because it has been brave enough to create new paradigms.
One of the paradigms from which Taiwan can learn is Bhutan only has diplomatic relations with 22 countries, as it believes that sparing expenses is conducive to domestic affairs.
Adrian White, a social psychologist at the University of Leicester, has produced the first-ever "world map of happiness." White based the rankings on the findings of more than 100 studies from around the world, including data on life expectancy from the WHO and various national surveys about satisfaction with life.
Denmark ranked first in the survey, which covered more than 80,000 participants from 178 countries, followed closely by Switzerland and Austria. Bhutan ranked eighth and was the only Asian country to make it to the top 10 list. Taiwan came in 68th and China 82nd.
Taiwan should pay attention to such a trend as it is a crucial turning point for "globalization." Bhutan walks its own way and "thinks like a mountain."
If Taiwan "thinks like an island" and supports the "three capitalisms" -- natural capitalism, cultural capitalism and social capitalism -- it will also have an opportunity to make itself an island of happiness. Hopefully the public will speak out in pursuit of happiness and launch a grassroots GNH movement.
Juju Wang is a sociology professor at National Tsing Hua University.
TRANSLATED BY TED YANG
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