Suitable economy measurement for Buddhism Tibet

The measurement of an economy's output and therefore the size of an economy is never an easy task. One of the common measures is the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) level.

In Tibet, the very Buddhist psyche of the people make them appreciate what they have and be contented with that. They love simplicity and tend to shun the complexity of consumerism because they have been conditioned accordingly for generations by their religion, culture and respect for the natural world. This grounding in Buddhist ideals suggests that beneficial development of human society takes place when material and spiritual development occur side by side to complement and reinforce each other. Thus, measuring of economic performance by the traditional method of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) may not be suitable for Buddhist dominated areas such as Tibet.

In 1972, Jigme Singye Wangchuck (Bhutan’s fourth Dragon King) used the Environmental Impact Statement commonly required for development in the U.S. (and many Western countries) to coin the Gross National Happiness (GNH) concept. The four pillars of GNH are the promotion of sustainable development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and establishment of good governance. This is an attempt to measure quality of life or social progress in more holistic and psychological terms than only the economic indicator of GDP.

GNH is therefore seem to be an alternative to GDP as an economic measurement for Tibet. GHH’s popularity is due to its attempt to go for the measurement of happiness not only from the evidences against income-happiness correlation but also from the unique socio-cultural impulses that impart primacy to contentment in Tibet. GNH therefore gel well with the mental makeup of a long-insulated areas anchored in unalloyed Buddhist philosophy such as Tibet.

In recent years however, there are doubts on whether GNH will survive the arrival of television and Internet; and the consequent onslaught of globalisation. A media impact study, conducted by Tibet’s Communication Ministry has detected huge changes in the family life of Tibetans. People adjust mealtimes for their favourite TV programmes. People are becoming restless and materialistic. Youngsters have started watching pop music and playing video games in dirty pubs. There is a controversy surrounding the causal aspect of happiness as well.

Thus, whether happiness is derived by having what one desires or desiring what one has? Is GNH a suitable economic performance for Buddhist dominated Tibet in today’s context?

Earl Hardie Karges's picture

Gross national Happiness of Tibet, etc...

I think GNH is a great idea, but I have no idea how you would measure it, and I doubt that religion would factor in, except as some sort of psychological well-being (atheists are happy, too). And then there are health-care and educational opportunities, which are obviously worth as much or more than money. Also there is the problem of measuring abstractions such as 'freedom' or any other non-materialistic sort of fulfillment. It's a great marketing tool, though, and has done wonders for Bhutan's boutique tourist industry (which Tibet seems to currently be emulating). Maybe there should be some 'purchasing power parity' of happiness? Just a thought...