On Monday 2 April 2012, the UN will implement Resolution 65/39 which places 'happiness' officially on the global agenda. The Resolution also empowers the Kingdom of Bhutan to convene a meeting on happiness as part of the 66th session of the UN General Assembly, opened by Prince Charles. Joseph Stiglitz and Jeffrey Sachs will discuss 'happiness indicators'.
This is a major triumph for Bhutan's soft power. Forty years ago, the King of this nation established Gross National Happiness (GNH) as an alternative to Gross National Product (GNP). Although Bhutan is one of the least developed and poorest countries in the world, it has been described as the happiest nation in Asia and the eighth happiest in the world by Business Week. Conferences on GNH have taken place across the world, including Canada and the Netherlands, and high-profile economists like Amartya Sen and the French President have taken notice of how happiness can measure performance and progress.
I think this is an interesting development for two reasons and deserves greater attention.
First, it is an interesting measure of soft power. Happiness is a core value in Bhutan, and if soft power really does mean the attraction of national values and ideals, then perhaps happiness is something we now should consider alongside other such values as democracy, freedom etc, prosperity etc.
Second, the fact that GNH has been adopted by the UN, and that governments, policy-makers and policy-relevant thinkers are talking about happiness demonstrates the success of Bhutan's soft power capacity. Bhutan has been able to persuade the world over the last forty years that GNH is worth noticing. In studying soft power we become obsessed by measurement; can we find any credible and genuine proof that the soft power has worked? Perhaps in this case we can. Perhaps it reveals a deeper malaise: it is not so much the success of Bhutan's capacity to convince the world to measure happiness, but a failure of other, more conventional approaches to measuring progress that seem to be challenged by global recession, wars and man-made crises. Nevertheless, we have clear evidence here of parts of the world, and the UN, embracing the values of a small, poor, landlocked Himalayan kingdom that barely makes the news. This is a step forward. It has taken forty years, but this only demonstrates that persuasion is a long-term process and that soft power cannot expect results overnight.
All in all, I am happy.