The story of happiness originates from the narrative of a charismatic leader, who had a compelling idea, that transformed a small, poor country into one that was rich in happiness.


In the early 1970’s, around the time when the Bretton Woods System folded, which resulted in one of the worst stock market crashes in 1973-1974, a young teenage king, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, from the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, promoted a development philosophy that offered an alternative to gross domestic product.

The underlying principle of the philosophy was simple and clear: the happiness of the people out-ranked the economic development of the country, making Bhutan stand out as a country that adopted a more holistic approach.


When His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck took his place as King in 1974, at the young age of 19 years old, the country was undergoing major transformation. The country experienced more growth in the last 50 years than in the previous 500 years preceding these 50 years. During these days, the King would travel the country on horseback, conversing with his people and explaining his vision of collective happiness for his people as his ultimate goal. It is difficult to pin down the exact date when the GNH came to life as Prime Minister, Jigme Y. Thinley, said “[a]t that time, it did not strike most of us as an extraordinarily wise and unique statement as it has now become. We all took it as something obvious and it wasn’t taken as an extraordinarily unique statement.


The king’s philosophy debuted in 1979, after he was approached by a reporter at the Bombay airport, who said that: “We do not know anything about Bhutan. What is your Gross National Product?”. The king replied “We do not believe in Gross National Product, because Gross National Happiness is more important.” It was only in 2005 that Bhutan chose to quantify happiness and the Centre for Bhutan Studies came up with the mathematical formula, to quantify GNH. This formula consisted of four pillars classified under nine domains. The four pillars include ”sustainable and equitable socioeconomic development, conservation of environment, preservation and promotion of culture and finally good governance.” History was made in July 2011, when the United Nations General Assembly unanimously chose the king’s philosophy: “Happiness: towards a holistic approach to development”. The Gross National Happiness index is described as a “multi-dimensional development approach seeking to achieve a harmonious balance between material well-being and the spiritual, emotional and cultural needs of society.


At Living Legends our life skills curriculum has been inspired by this world-renowned Gross National happiness index. The curriculum includes, amongst others, themes such as creativity, financial literacy, mindfulness, the spirit of learning and personal well-being. Here at Living Legends, we aim to continue His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck’s legacy and incorporate his principles into our DNA and story.


By Megan Cunningham
29 April 2021