AI Insights

Former PM of the World´s Happiest Country Bhutan on the Secret to Happiness

November 21, 2022

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In this essay, we learn from HE Tshering Tobgay, Former Prime Minister of Bhutan about his country, where the philosophy of Gross National Happiness guides the government and the society to achieve sustainable growth. We also discuss if technology, especially artificial intelligence can help the human race in achieving happiness.

The Pursuit of Happiness 

People always wanted to be happy. Through the centuries the human race was struggling and doing everything to achieve a state of happiness. Nevertheless, one should actually ask, what happiness is? We could agree that the definition of happiness may be different for each person. Moreover, sometimes what we perceive as potential happiness, turns out to be just a delusion, an escape from reality, or meaningless pleasure, which when one achieves it, does not give long-term contentment. 

When pursuing happiness, Western societies in many cases focus too much on material possessions and forget the deeper sense of life, while Eastern societies on a daily basis seem to live in a more spiritual way, but at the same time, they face a lot of challenges with providing a good standard of living for all the citizens. It seems like the best option would be to find a balance between those two approaches. 

We live in amazing times where technology, including artificial intelligence, is helping us in almost every aspect of our life. We could think, if only AI is used properly, it would help us achieve a better, happier life. 

Bhutan – “the last Shangri-La” and the Country where Happiness is the Most Important Goal

While talking about happiness, and especially a happy society, for many people the example of Bhutan, the country which introduced the philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH), can come to mind.

Bhutan is a small country with a population of around 790 000 people located in the Himalayan region, locked between two of the most populated countries in the world – China and India. Worldwide Bhutan is best known for the philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH), a philosophy which guides the government, but also the whole society while pursuing the happiness and sustainable development of the country. It is said that for the Bhutanese government Gross National Happiness (GNH) is more important than Gross National Product (GDP). 


“Four hundred years ago, the Founding Father of Bhutan, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, said that if a government cannot provide happiness for its people, that government has no right to exist” – HE Tshering Tobgay, Former Prime Minister of Bhutan. 



While describing Bhutan, one cannot forget to mention that the country noticed an average growth in annual GDP of 7,5% since the early 1980s. At the same time, if it comes to poverty, its level has decreased from 36% in 2007 to 10% in 2019. If it comes to environmental factors, Bhutan as a country has a total forest area of 72,5%, which helps it in having the title of the only carbon-negative country in the whole world. 

If it comes to technological development, in 2012 there was the launch of Thimphu TechPark, which houses 19 mostly foreign companies and at the same time employs around 600 people. This initiative helped Bhutan to increase the employment rate in the ICT sector and enhance tech skills among the workforce. The change in electricity access rate is also spectacular – it increased from 61% in 2006 to 100% in 2016 and it happened ahead of the country’s initial 2020 goal. 

All those great achievements and development of Bhutan probably would not be realized without a big focus on Gross National Happiness, which is some kind of guiding tool for the government and the society itself. 

GNH as the Way to Achieve Sustainable Development of the Country and Society


“Gross National Happiness was introduced in 1972 by His Majesty the 4th King of Bhutan. For us it is more important than Gross National Product” – HE Tshering Tobgay, Former Prime Minister of Bhutan. 



In 1972, the 4th King of Bhutan, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, declared that “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product”. The whole concept assumes that sustainable development of the country and nation should take into consideration a holistic approach towards progress, including also non-economic aspects of wellbeing. That is why GHN consists of traditional socio-economic factors, for example, health, education, and living standards, but also less traditional areas such as culture and psychological well-being. 

The philosophy of Gross National Happiness is based on four main pillars, which are: good governance, sustainable socio-economic development, cultural preservation, and environmental conservation. Those four pillars have been further translated into nine domains, which create the holistic character of GNH. 

The nine main domains of Gross National Happiness are psychological well-being, health, education, time use, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience, and living standards.  Within all the above nine domains, there are thirty-three indicators, which measure the nation’s well-being by starting with each person’s achievements in each indicator. 


“In Gross National Happiness we calculate the number of hours you sleep, the number of hours you work, the amount of money you make, the number of assets you possess, but also whether you are content in the workplace, whether you feel a sense of purpose in your work, whether you feel safe at your work, whether you’re satisfied with government services. There are 149 questions in the questionnaire” – HE Tshering Tobgay, Former Prime Minister of Bhutan. 



The Idea of AI for Happiness

Nowadays, we benefit from all the technology and artificial intelligence solutions on a daily basis, sometimes even when we do not realize it. Nevertheless, the main question is if we can use AI not only to improve the businesses and economy itself while measuring for example GDP, but also if there is any way that AI can count and indicate the weaknesses of this measure and if there is any way that this technology can provide us with tools to improve our happiness. 

Many people right now worry about how the future will look. If technology and AI will take over our lives and we will become victims of our own inventions. Nevertheless, we have the amazing opportunity to use all this technology for a great purpose, including pursuing happiness. True is that it is our choice how we use AI and if it will be beneficial for us. 


“We are at the cusp of using the potential of AI in a very productive way. It’s up to us if we will use it to go forward” – HE Tshering Tobgay, Former Prime Minister of Bhutan. 



That is true that most of the AI solutions developed right now are focused on the improvement of the economic performance of businesses and the economy itself. There is not much talk and even fewer actions that could provide us with AI solutions for a better future for humanity. 


“Right now, everything in AI is about the economy. We focus so much on the economy, whether it’s autonomous driving cars, manufacturing cars, robots, or whether it is algorithms that help to shop or social media. Everything seems to be on how to improve GDP. I would like to harness AI to strengthen not only GDP, but also to create happiness and well-being of the people” – HE Tshering Tobgay, Former Prime Minister of Bhutan.



Real-World AI Solutions for Happiness

In Omdena we are launching “impACT leadership” series to support and promote thoughtful and sustainable leadership, with a focus on building solutions to solve some of the most pressing problems of the world. Apart from the discussion in the first episode of the podcast on how to create AI for a better future, we also launched “impACT program” to put all those ideas into action. 

One of our first guests of the “impACT leadership” series was HE Tshering Tobgay, Former Prime Minister of Bhutan with who we discussed topics connected with AI and happiness. 

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