Bicycles and Bhutan's Gross National Happiness

The current Yes! Magazine, contains an article “Why the Kings of Bhutan Ride Bicycles.”

(Sorry, there’s no online version of the article for a link. I was totally reading a paper magazine.)

The article is an interview with the Bhutanese Prime Minister Jigmi Y. Thinley, who discusses the concept of Gross National Happiness, which was pioneered in Bhutan.

Wikipedia says:

The concept of gross national happiness (GNH) was developed in an attempt to define an indicator that measures quality of life or social progress in more holistic and psychological terms than gross domestic product (GDP).

Monks at a monastery outside Punakha in Bhutan
Photo: Yes! Magazine

Thinley also discusses the value of defending and protecting Bhutanese culture against the “onslaught of modernization.”

So when asked how Bhutan can reduce “harmful outside influences, without walling off the world,” Thinley responds:

To control [foreign influences] through laws and rules and regulatory processes is near impossible. So what we are trying to do is advocate. This has to be done not only through speech but through action. I’m very happy to that our two kings–the fourth king who is now in retirement, and the present king who sits on the throne–have very recently started bicycling. … I’m trying to raise ways and means to make it easy to buy bicycles. … The idea is to make Bhutan a bicycle culture, supported by a public transportation system.

Jigme Singye Wangchuck, that retired king of Bhutan, is 55 years old. And he took up cycling to show support for his country’s priorities. Call me soft on monarchism, but I’m impressed.

In recent weeks, this blog has discussed congestion charges, advocacy, and infrastructure. Dozens of other cycling blogs have too. What I now notice has been absent from these discussions are demonstrations of high-profile leadership–leaders who put cycling into practice as well as pose for photos and propose legislation. It’s not enough for an American politician to sing about bike lanes. I want to see them commute by bike.

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