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Suicide rate increasing in the land of happiness

In 1972, the number one priority of new King Jigme Singye Wangchuck of Bhutan was the country’s Happiness. It reads like the beginning of a children’s story, but it’s a real quantifiable concept. A measure of overall personal satisfaction weighed against detrimental factors such as stress and depression, Gross National Happiness remains the pride of ...

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A Bhutanese woman gestures while shopping at a market in Thimphu on March 21, 2008. The tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan with a population of less than 700,000 people is guided by the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH), a term coined by former king Jigme Singye Wangchuk, which takes precedence over Gross National Product (GDP). The National Assembly elections in Bhutan will be held on March 24, 2008, formally ending the Wangchuck dynasty's 100-year-rule and transforming the predominantly Buddhist nation to a parliamentary democracy. AFP PHOTO/ Deshakalyan CHOWDHURY (Photo credit should read DESHAKALYAN CHOWDHURY/AFP/Getty Images)

In 1972, the number one priority of new King Jigme Singye Wangchuck of Bhutan was the country’s Happiness. It reads like the beginning of a children’s story, but it’s a real quantifiable concept. A measure of overall personal satisfaction weighed against detrimental factors such as stress and depression, Gross National Happiness remains the pride of this Himalayan state today, considered even more important than the Gross National Product.

Recently, however, its high GNH has been called into question with an inexplicable surge in the suicide rate. Kuensel, the country’s main newspaper, investigated and found some shocking numbers. BBC News elaborates:

‘In some villages, committing suicide has almost become a norm,” [Kuensel] says.

Official figures show that the highest number of suicides was in 2001, when 58 people killed themselves. The lowest number was in 2006, when 34 people committed suicide. Bhutan’s population is 682,000 people.

The figures have concerned the government- which is expanding a counselling service in schools to help teenagers who feel depressed.

Correspondents say that the figures are surprising, especially when the country’s two main religions- Hinduism and Buddism- believe that a person who commits suicide will not be reborn as human being.”

Secretary of the Gross National Happiness Commission Karma Tsheetem concludes, “It means there has to be a better balance between spiritual and the material.” Hopefully this balance will be restored and we’ll see a spike in the GNH soon.

AFP/Getty Images 

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