Bhutan: Shangri-La in the 21st Century

'Gross National Happiness' index sets Himalayan nation apart

Next to a traditional Bhutanese motif, Dr. Bruce Buntling discusses modern-day Bhutan in Washington on May 5, 2011. (Asia Society Washington Center)

WASHINGTON DC, May 5, 2011 - "Imagine a place, a place like no other, a place where people care more about the conservation of their environment, preservation of their culture, and promoting fairness and equality than they do about material gain."

Such was the introduction to the country of Bhutan given by Dr. Bruce Bunting, President of the Bhutan Foundation, here at an Asia Society Washington talk that focused on the history and culture of the nation located deep in the Himalayan Mountains.

Bunting gave a brief overview of the culture, politics, and economy of Bhutan, giving particular attention to the subject of "Gross National Happiness" (GNH) and the special role this has had in the the country's development. Bunting described the Bhutanese concept of GNH as being a "bridge between the fundamental values of kindness, equality, and humanity, and the necessary pursuit of economic growth."

In such a context, Bunting continued, the role of government is to provide an environment in which citizens are allowed to pursue happiness. He described how the Bhutanese government is attempting to increase GNH through further democratic reforms, improvements in education, and the development of a hydropower industry that provides jobs.

While the presentation depicted Bhutan in a rosy light, members of the audience asked questions having to do with the challenges that Bhutan faces in the future. Bunting admitted one of the biggest problems the nation is facing has to do with the younger portions of the population, who are perennially un- or under-employed.

The evening closed with a presentation from Tshering Yangzom, Program Associate for the Bhutan Foundation, on Bhutanese food.

Reported by Adrian Stover, Asia Society Washington