CAN MONEY buy happiness or to some extent contentment?

For the Philippines’ top business minds happiness for them would be reports of zooming stock markets, improving credit ratings, and sparkling profits made by big business as they are sure signs of economic progress.

But, for Sen. Loren Legarda happiness is not always having pockets full of wads of cash but making sure that the future generation is safe and free from the dangers of global warming and climate change.

Even Department of Environment and Natural Resources secretary Gina Lopez has caught on the idea of gross national happiness, with plans for her agency to utilize GNH as the new paradigm of development to make happiness as a “barometer” of development in DENR programs.

“We are changing the paradigm of development from the Gross National Product (GDP) to GNH,” Lopez said.

It was Lopez who invited Dr. Saamdu Chetri, executive director of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness (GNH) Centre to the Philippines as she and Legarda strive to find a balance between economic growth and preservation of the environment in the country. 

“And, this is the first time that we are really taking a serious look of making happiness as a barometer of development” Lopez pointed out.  

Legarda and Lopez both brought to light one aspect of development that has often been neglected by government and big business oligarchs: people’s well-being and happiness.


Measure of Happiness 

In a speech, Legarda emphasized the need to consider not just the Philippines’ economic development but also on the happiness and well-being of Filipinos.

“The overall quality of life of Filipinos remains poorly understood due to the absence of measures that will reflect their happiness and well-being. We need to pursue the holistic development of the country amid the threats of climate change and increased disaster risks,” she said.

Bhutan, a tiny Asian nation situated deep in the Himalayas, has practiced a unique way of measuring people’s happiness and overall development, which they called Gross National Happiness (GNH).

First popularized in Bhutan during the reign of King Jigme Singye Wangchuck in the 1970’s, GNH was originally defined as a commitment to building an economy that would serve Bhutan's culture based on Buddhist spiritual values, instead of western material development gauged by gross domestic product (GDP).


Four Pillars

The four pillars of Bhutan’s GNH are the promotion of equitable and sustainable socio-economic development, the preservation and promotion of cultural values, the conservation of the natural environment, and the establishment of good governance.

The four pillars are further classified into nine domains: psychological well-being, health, education, time use, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience, and living standards.

That made the concept unique is that it measures the country’s overall well-being not by sparkling profits or market gains but by people’s contentment and happiness. 

Or, as Bhutanese Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay put it to Wall Street Journal in 2015, if “we are increasing in richness but we’re not doing so well overall in well-being, and people are not as content, then something definitely is wrong.”


Barometer of Development

GNH has now caught the attention of scholars and economists both in the East and West as a viable yardstick of human development. 

In July 2011, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 65/309, which placed "happiness" on the global development agenda.

Sen. Legarda, who has visited Bhutan in 2009 as the United Office for Disaster Risk Reduction’s Regional Champion for Asia-Pacific, believes that the Philippine government should adopt Bhutan’s GNH concept as a yardstick of progress.

As an environmentalist she is convinced that good governance is not always about a robust economy but it must include status of the environment, good governance, equitable and sustainable socio-economic growth and the promotion and preservation of culture. 

“The quality of life is just as important as the growth rates that we have been working so hard to increase,” she explained. 

It’s clear, Sen. Legarda qualified in her speech, that the present idea of “economic growth” touted by big business oligarchs and economic minds clash with GNH’s ideas of promoting sustainable development and environmental protection.

“The air that we breathe—we have polluted it to alarming levels that we have exposed ourselves to respiratory diseases,” she stressed. “Our waters—our source of life—we did not only use it and used it up, we even dirtied it. We have been using the Manila Bay, Pasig River and other bodies of water as sewerage sites. 

Moreover, we intend to extract our minerals in 30 to 50 years even if future generations of Filipinos will have nothing left; while our forests have dwindled from almost 16 million hectares to only 6.8 million hectares.”


True Yardstick of Growth 

If this is what the oligarchs see the Philippines’ economic growth, the senator said, then we could all see a bleak future for the country “an urban jungle where grass cannot grow, where economic growth rate is directly proportional to the number of people who suffocate from industrial fumes.”

Sen. Legarda’s speech – and its context – should be a warning call to the oligarchs who had long thought that increasing profits and zooming stock rates are THE paradigms of Philippine economic progress.

“These circumstances should make it evident to us that we need economic yardsticks that do not place emphasis on the blind pursuit of economic growth” Legarda stressed.