Gross National Happiness — Bhutan

Gross National Happiness (GNH) is a method for evaluating the wellbeing of a country versus using Gross Domestic Product (GDP), stock indices, or trade data. Apparently it all started in Bhutan, so let’s begin there.

Bhutan Map - Encyclopaedia BritannicaThe Kingdom of Bhutan is a small mountain country in South Asia with a population of around 720,000. It is located in the Himalayas, bordered by People’s Republic of China and Republic of India.

The term “gross national happiness” was coined in 1972 by Bhutan’s former King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck. Gross national happiness (GNH) became a framework for assessing the wellbeing of the country and began being used as a decision making matrix for economic development. Ideas, projects, plans, developments and the like were evaluated based on the impact to GNH.

During a speech, the current King, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk, shared his vision of GNH in the 21st century. It is the duty of every generation to find new ways of achieving the goals of GNH, which is based on the fundamental values of kindness, equality, and humanity, while pursuing the necessity of economic growth.

Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness

While there is no single official definition of GNH, the following description is widely used:

“Gross National Happiness (GNH) measures the quality of a country in more holistic way [than GNP] and believes that the beneficial development of human society takes place when material and spiritual development occurs side by side to complement and reinforce each other.”

Four Pillars of Gross National Happiness

The Bhutanese view economic development as a means of alleviating poverty, malnutrition, and disease and believe it must be accomplished in a way that sustains livelihoods and the environment. This philosophy is encompassed by the four pillars of GNH which are:

  • Sustainable and equitable socioeconomic development
  • Conservation of the environment
  • Preservation and promotion of culture
  • Promotion of good governance

Bhutan Gross National Happiness Wheel with 9 DomainsNine Domains of Gross National Happiness

The contributors to gross national happiness have been grouped into 9 domains which are further broken down into 33 indicators to facilitate understanding and measuring GNH.

  1. Psychological Wellbeing – individual life satisfaction, emotional balance, and spirituality.
  2. Time Use – balance between paid work, unpaid work and leisure, non-work time is valued.
  3. Community Vitality – social support, trust, safety, balance between economic advancement and community.
  4. Cultural Diversity and Resilience – preserving cultural traditions, native language, artisan skills, socio-cultural participation, and DriglamNamzha (related to formal occasions).
  5. Health – physical and mental health status and health knowledge of the people, as well as any barriers to accessing health services.
  6. Education – literacy, schooling, knowledge, values, and competencies.
  7. Ecological Diversity and Resilience – environmental responsibility, pollution, diverse flora and fauna, forest cover, natural resources, domestic supply and demand on eco-systems, and urban issues.
  8. Living Standard – the economic status of people, financial security, food security, house ownership, and hardships.
  9. Good Governance – how people perceive the government in terms of efficiency, quality, and honesty, reducing inequality and promoting balanced development, political participation, and political freedom.

Gross National Happiness Index

Bhutanese Children - Gross National HappinessIn 2010, Bhutan conducted a Gross National Happiness survey administered via a GNH questionnaire that covered the 33 indicators categorized under the nine GNH domains. One result of the survey was the Gross National Happiness Index which indicated what percentage of Bhutanese people were considered happy.

The Bhutanese approach to economic development and the wellbeing of its people and environment is refreshing and relevant for today’s global society. It has captured the interest and imagination of people and governments all around the world. Gross national happiness initiatives are appearing in other countries including the USA…and that is a topic for another post.

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Author: Linda Poppenheimer

Linda researches and writes about environmental topics to share information, spark conversation, and convince people to take action to keep earth habitable for all. She believes our individual actions do matter—it all adds up.

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