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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8 thoughts on “Bicycles and Bhutan's Gross National Happiness”

  1. Chrehn says:

    I like it.

  2. Will says:

    Lots of American politicos and their employees are leading by example by commuting by bike or more. Just a few that I’ve interacted with over the years:

    Mike McGinn -Mayor of Seattle
    John Hickenlooper -Colorado Governor (fmr mayor of Denver)
    Sam Adams – Mayor of Portland
    Adrian Fenty – fmr Mayor of DC
    Earl Blumenauer – US Rep (Portland, OR)
    Peter DeFazio – US Rep (Eugene, OR)
    James Oberstar – Fmr US Rep (Northern Minnesota)

    I’m with you that we still need more, but these guys have all been slogging away for cyclists for a long time, so, credit where credit is due.

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      Great list! Was that off the top of your head, or did you grab that from somewhere?

      I figured there were some good examples, and that a resourceful commenter would dig them up. The only one I could think of was Ray Lahood, and he doesn’t really fit the executive-branch profile that I had in mind.


  3. Matt says:

    But, the “How to talk to a Conservative” article featured a young Ronald Reagan on a bike — wearing a suit no less!

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      Taking the stoker position behind Dorothy Lamour does not count as leadership; it’s sightseeing.

      Here’s Reagan on a tandem again–stoker position again–with Jane Wyman:

      I rest my case.

  4. Janice says:

    Toronto’s new mayor should take a trip to this enlightened country.

  5. Matt says:

    That is a hilarious picture! I cannot emphasize this enough to Presidents and stokers — do not be distracted by the pretty woman in front of you. Stay focused!

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