September 7, 2007

Discussing GNH in Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand: A couple of events in Thailand have already taken place in preparation for the third international conference on Gross National Happiness. Last held in Nova Scotia, Canada, this conference has returned to Asia and will take place in Nong Kai and Bangkok, Thailand, from November 22 to 28.
To make the conference a success, the organizers have been introducing the concept of GNH to the greater Mekong region and furthering debate amongst academics and policymakers.

One such event occurred on the evening of July 19 at the Bangkok Foreign Correspondent’s Club. Foreign journalists were invited to attend a panel discussion on GNH. This gathering provided the platform for the organizers to promote the conference and explain to the foreign press the philosophy of GNH.
Khun Wallapa Van Willenswaard, the Managing Director of Suan Nguen Mee Ma Ltd., a foundation which is helping to organize the conference, said: “Thailand decided to organize the conference because the Mekong region shares the same state of development as Bhutan. There is a need to decide if we will go toward modernity or work to preserve our traditional and cultural aspects.”
Other guest speakers at the Press Club were Lyonpo Jigmi Y. Thinley, the home and cultural affairs minister and president of the Center for Bhutan Studies; Thakur S. Powdyel, director of the Center for Educational Research and Development; and Dr. Takayoshi Kusago, an associate professor in human sciences from Osaka University in Japan.
Lyonpo Jigmi Y. Thinley emphasized that until 1998, “Bhutan was shy to talk about GNH. Westerners had told us we were naive, that happiness is not quantitative, could not be measured and was merely an utopian idea.”
However, all that changed in 1998 when Lyonpo Jigmi Y. Thinley addressed the Millennium Summit in Seoul, South Korea, and shared this unique philosophy. Since then, it has captured the imagination of the world.
Dr. Takayoshi Kusago is one of many scholars around the world inspired by His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck’s philosophy and has spent the last few years researching Japanese and Bhutanese societies, specifically on satisfaction with their life over an extended period of time.
Dr. Kusago is currently examining the quality of Japan’s economic growth to see if the distribution of this growth is reaching the wider population. His research has led him to conclude that policymakers do not pay heed to their citizens’ perspectives. His hope is that academia can create a tool that allows governments to pay closer attention to the views of their constituents; therefore, increasing the happiness of a population as a whole.
Thailand for years has been endorsing its own development paradigm known as ‘Sufficiency Economy’, which has some similarities with GNH. This connection between GNH and Sufficiency Economy was further realized at a two day conference held at the United Nations Conference Center on July 18 and 19. Mr. Sorrayud Chulanont, the current prime minister of Thailand, gave an opening speech titled “Sufficiency Economy: Thailand’s Operationalized Model of Happiness.”
This conference provided the opportunity for academics, policymakers, and government officials to debate and share ideas on challenging existing development paradigms. One of the aims of this conference was to discuss how to transform these new, more meaningful concepts into operational policies. It’s this next crucial step for GNH which the organizers of the third international conference hope will be the focus of the attendees meeting in November.
Up to now, the Bhutanese government has focused on creating a “happiness” consciousness among its people. However, now with the rest of the world interested in GNH, the concept has taken on a life of its own. Foreign academics intrigued with GNH need a proven conclusion at the end of their research; and policymakers need to see statistical results to their implementations. In order to satisfy the needs of academics and policymakers, happiness indices are currently being developed.
Lyonpo Jigmi Y. Thinley, in response to a journalist’s question regarding the indices, warned “There are bound to be flaws, but by doing this, there will be a greater acceptance of GNH.”

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