The MWS Podcast 47: Ha Vinh Tho on the Gross National Happiness Project in Bhutan

Today’s guest is Dr. Ha Vinh Tho, the Programme Director of the Gross National Happiness Centre in Bhutan. He’s here to talk to us about the project, it’s underlying philosophy, how it’s applied, the challenges it faces and how it might relate to the Middle Way.


MWS Podcast 47: Ha Vinh Tho as audio only:
Download audio: MWS_Podcast_47_Ha_Vinh_Tho

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About Barry Daniel

I live in the Lake District in the UK where I run a guesthouse with my partner Kate and my cat Manuel. I enjoy painting, hillwalking, reading, visiting and entertaining friends, T’ai Chi and playing the guitar. I’m engaged to a certain degree in the local community, as a volunteer with Samaritans and I’m a fairly active member of the local Green party. I’ve had a relatively intuitive sense of the Middle Way most of my adult life but it found a greater articulation and a practical direction through joining the society. It’s also been interesting and great fun engaging with other people with a similar outlook. My main contribution to the society is conducting the podcast interviews, something that gives me a lot of satisfaction and that I’ve learnt a lot from.

3 thoughts on “The MWS Podcast 47: Ha Vinh Tho on the Gross National Happiness Project in Bhutan

  1. An inspiring podcast, and an example of the Middle Way being successfully used in a political context to mould the approach of a whole nation. It would be interesting to find out a bit more about both the successes and the problems raised for this approach. Can you recommend a further web source, Barry?

    It may be that the concept of ‘happiness’ has rather different resonances in Bhutan than it does in the UK. However, for me it is very much associated with Utilitarianism, which has in its turn moulded much of the current approach of conventional economics. Economists might well say that they wanted to bring about greater aggregate happiness through raising GNP. What Tho said about his interpretation of happiness was promising – and sounded in effect like what I’d call integration. However, it also seemed a bit vague, perhaps unavoidably. Again it would be good to find out a bit more.

    My other thought was that I remember David Cameron taking this up and advocating the use of a GNH measure a few years ago. But this aspiration seems to have vanished under the flood of conventional pressures, assumptions and conflicts. I wonder if he ever did anything about it?

  2. I also found him inspiring. He wasn’t at all painting a picture of a utopia and also made the point that GNH is not about shoving ‘happiness’ down people’s throats but setting up the conditions that enable people to find their own way to flourish in a more integrated manner. He seems to fully recognise the challenges to be faced as well. Here’s an interview with him in the Guardian on that subject:

    http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/bhutan-threat-growth-western-consumerism

    Here’s a recent article from the New York Times about Bhutan’s new prime minister Tshering Tobgay, who appears to be distancing himself from GNH somewhat.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/05/world/asia/index-of-happiness-bhutans-new-leader-prefers-more-concrete-goals.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

  3. These are both interesting articles, and show the problems around the project. The Guardian article highlights the clash between democracy and benevolent dictatorship – what if the people don’t want what is good for them? And the NY Times article seems to suggest practical inadequacies in the GNH project.

    There are also other shadows in Bhutan. The government pushed out loads of Nepalese people who ended up in refugee camps on the Terai (southern Nepal), in what appeared to be an ethnic cleansing measure. (At one point my brother-in-law, who works in development, was managing some of these camps.) I can imagine how easy it is to confuse the Middle Way with ethnic and religious exclusivism given that it is seen so much in Buddhist terms.

    I share the idealism in the sense of supporting the need for a new model to replace conventional economic thinking. But there are a huge number of obstacles in the way of realising such a vision, and it would be very easy for those of use inspired by such a vision to get stuck in new metaphysical idealisations if we don’t respond to the obstacles with thorough-going pragmatism.

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