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Gross National Happiness, Limits to Growth, and Challenges to Bhutan's Development Approach
Abstract: In their 30-year update to their book, Limits to Growth, Meadows et al. called for a vision of sustainable development that included (i) systemic change brought on by new perspectives on the purpose of development, (ii) new ways of measuring progress, and (iii) new social norms. With this talk, I discuss this vision in the context of the literature on sustainable development and present the parallels between Meadows et al.'s vision and the development trajectory of the Kingdom of Bhutan. I suggest that Bhutan's development approach provides one model for sustainable development that dovetails with Meadows et al.'s recommendations. The ideal of maximizing Gross National Happiness (GNH) adopted but the Bhutanese government exemplifies their commitment to holistic development and mirrors arguments about the shortcomings of an over-emphasis on economic growth. I provide examples of how GNH has been put into practice, describe how happiness is being measured, and discuss the potential emergence of social norms and a shared Bhutanese identity that may contribute to sustainable development. Bhutan's development success suggests that an alternative to growth-centric development is viable. However, as Bhutan's standard of living has increased, and so have the challenges the country faces; the most important of which may be their ability to manage rising consumption levels. With the transition to a democratic government, a growing urban middle class, and increased exposure to foreign values, ideals, and consumption patterns, Bhutan's sustainable development approach faces critical tests. I discuss these socio-economic, political and cultural changes and the impact that Bhutan's emphasis on happiness and well-being may have on other nation's aspirations for sustainable development.
Keywords: Sustainable development; well-being; limits to growth; sustainable consumption; happiness