Wedged between India and China, the tiny country of Bhutan is going through some big changes. These changes began in the early 1970s, when Bhutan’s fourth king slowly started to open up the country to the modern world after centuries of isolation. This modernization and opening of Bhutan is still very much a work in progress; citizens only gained access to television in 1999, and many live hours from the nearest road.
What is especially unique about development in Bhutan, however, is how it is being measured. Instead of focusing on gross domestic product, Bhutan’s monarchy has pursued development in terms of the four pillars of “Gross National Happiness” – equitable and sustainable development, cultural preservation, environmental conservation, and good governance. In many ways, this emphasis on gross national happiness has been a great success. Since 1982, Bhutan’s literacy rate has jumped from 10 percent to 60 percent, its average life expectancy has increased from 43 to 66 years, and its infant mortality rate has dropped from 163 deaths per thousand to 40.
What remains to be seen, however, is how Bhutan's current transition to democracy will affect the country's development. While voter turnout in the March 24 parliamentary election was over 80 percent, there appeared to be few differences between the two main political parties, both of which pledged to continue to carry out the king's concept of gross national happiness.