"we want Bhutan to succeed. Thank you for the precious gift. These were the resounding messages from participants of the third international conference on Gross National Happiness held in Thailand from November 22 to 28.
The simple GNH message that has struck a chord in people around the world is that material development, as symbolized by GDP, is inadequate. Humanity has more today than ever before but is less happy. Therefore happiness must be the human priority in the search for human security.
The conference received strong political support with the prime ministers of Bhutan and Thailand addressing the opening. The 300 participants who were registered represented the growing GNH community from about 20 countries.
We would like Bhutan to set an example to the world by making GNH succeed as a basis for development and change, said one scholar from the United Kingdom. It can only become mainstream in the home of GNH, because its on the sidelines everywhere else.
Participants agreed, however, that this was easier said than done. Even in Bhutan there were skeptics, who saw GNH as a catchy but rhetorical phrase. And GNH would face a new challenge when a new government was elected in early 2008.
As governments come and go, His Majesty the King will have to personify the guardian of GNH, said a Bhutanese participant. Only strong and imaginative leaders can ensure that the values of GNH are instilled as national priorities.
Participants warned that, if GNH values were not consistently nurtured, they would be lost very quickly. A Thai participant pointed out that Thailand made similar promises of happiness 50 years ago. They were now forgotten.
The conference was found to be intellectually stimulating and a good venue for the spread of ideas by many people. Others found it too inclusive and diverse and, therefore, somewhat out of focus. GNH needed fresh ideas.
There was unanimous agreement that GNH required more envisioning to develop the concept and that the concept needed more attention from a wide audience in mainstream society. Some suggested that Bhutan should organize specialists to look at how GNH could be infused into specific policies like private sector development.
The participation of 43 young people from 13 countries was seen as one of the conferences important successes. As one organizer said, it had a long-term impact on the youth. One Bhutanese girl said that visiting happy rural communities in northern Thailand was an eye- opener on how the rural population could be made much more sensitive to sustainability.
As the third international conference concluded, the near-unanimous view was that the next conference should be held in Bhutan, because it was important for the entire world that GNH succeeded in its home country.
According to the Director of the Centre for Bhutan Studies, Dasho Karma Ura, CBS was now ready to present a pilot study on GNH indicators. It was one of the most comprehensive studies conducted and could contribute to national policy and the 10th Plan, he said.
Among the many organizations, that helped put the conference together, were the Thai Ministry of Human Development and Social Security, which was the main funder, and the United Nations Development Programme, that provided funding for the Bhutanese participation.
By Kinley Dorji in Bangkok