In March 1968 Robert Kennedy gave a speech in which he railed against the economic principle of measuring progress by growth in Gross Domestic Product (then called Gross National Product (GNP)). Kennedy explained that GNP was used to measure any economic activity regardless of the benefit to society but that it fails to address the valuable contribution to society of valuable but less quantifiable indicators of a society’s character.
He stated that “[GNP] counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads… Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play… It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”
I had the great privilege of spending last week in the Kingdom of Bhutan where the model of Gross National Happiness is favoured over pure economic indicators as a guiding principle for the country’s activity and decision making.
Gross National Happiness is a holistic program that aims to enhance citizens’ experience over nine domains including psychological wellbeing, health, time use, education, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience and living standards. Through focusing on each of these areas in relation to policy formation and as a means of assessing progress, Bhutan has begun to emphasise the wellbeing of its community in measures that go beyond pure economic conditions.
The happiness represented in the GNH model, goes beyond momentary hedonistic pleasure and instead focuses on the conditions that allow for a full and meaningful life. As part of the week in Bhutan, I was able to visit schools, meet with school principals, government ministers, Bhuddist monks and representatives of the tourism industry. What I discovered was a devotion, in each of these institutions, to the fostering of a wellbeing model for all their stakeholders.
All of this does not mean that Bhutan is the happiest place on earth. It does, however, indicate a genuine commitment to continual improvement of the holistic needs of the population and institutions.
King David has long understood that its role goes well beyond merely teaching for excellence. Rather, we aim to foster the holistic development of our student body across their social, emotional, spiritual, ethical, intellectual, sporting and cultural domains.
I have returned from Bhutan inspired to find ways to deepen this commitment and to provide opportunities to encourage our students to live their fullest lives. I truly believe that this offers them the best of opportunities to experience lasting happiness both in school and beyond.