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A Q&A with Expert Preston Scott

By | April 6, 2014
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Q: How is Gross National Happiness measured? How does this concept of wealth tie in with Bhutan's foundation in Buddhism?

A: One approach towards measuring Gross National Happiness (GNH) is by monitoring various social statistical indicators that include but are not limited to murder and other rates of crime; infant and other rates of mortality and morbidity; numbers of suicides and other stress-related illnesses; and equitable access to land, water, food and medicine; and literacy. However, while the impulse to try to "measure" happiness in Bhutan (or anyplace for that matter) is important, it should not eclipse the value that the GNH concept plays in public life in Bhutan as the country tries to pursue a balanced path towards the future based on something more than economic metrics alone. GNH in Bhutan is discussed within the context of four important broad-based social values: Promotion of Health, Education, and Sustainable Economic Opportunity; Protection of the Environment; Preservation of Cultural Heritage; and, Good Governance. These themes are used by the Bhutanese when they evaluate the pros and cons of many policy decisions they are facing, and help focus debate on what it takes to create and maintain a good society. While reflecting a profound respect for social harmony and well-being rooted in Buddhist values, they also reflect some important themes in serious political thought that go back at least as far as the ancient Greeks. In this context, it should be recalled that the Declaration of Independence drafted by Thomas Jefferson also commences with the observation that a principal legitimate purpose of government is protection of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"—something worth thinking about!

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Preston Scott

Preston Scott is the Curator of the Bhutan Project at the 42nd Annual Folklife Festival, which featured Bhutan in the summer of 2008. He has also served as an advisor to the Royal Government of Bhutan on several environmental and cultural conservation projects and is a frequent traveler to the eastern Himalayas. Preston has participated in environmental conflict resolution initiatives in more than twenty countries around the world in his role as founder and executive director of the World Foundation for Environment and Development.

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