Gross National Happiness: An alternative indicator of Growth

Bhutan, also known as the Kingdom of Bhutan, is a small country in South Asia. It is completely landlocked by the Tibet Autonomous region of China in the north, by Sikkim, a state in India, and Chumbi Valley of Tibet in the west, by Arunachal Pradesh, a state in India, in the west and by the Indian states of Assam and West Bengal in the south. Bhutan was named the most peaceful country in South Asia. Buddhism is the most practiced religion here and the various teaching and principles of Buddhism are followed by its citizens. As one of the basic principles of Buddhism is to be mindful and aware of ones thoughts and actions, peace prevails in this country.

“Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”- Aristotle.

 The basis of the concept of Gross National Happiness is “happiness”. It focuses on increasing the happiness of the people in the nation which will therefore show an increase in the overall happiness levels in the nation as well as give way to faster development.
Most countries in this world measures the development and the progress of the country on the basis of GDP(Gross Domestic Product). Bhutan was the first country to measure the affluence of its people on the basis of Gross National Happiness (GNH) which gives more importance to its citizens rather than the goods and services provided by the country. Thus, Bhutan set a stellar example for the rest of the countries to follow.

The kingdom’s(Bhutan) first legal code stated that “if the government cannot create happiness for its people, there is no purpose for the government”. On the basis of this, the concept of the Gross National Product(GNH) was introduced in Bhutan. This was coined by the fourth king of Bhutan, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck in 1972. The sustainable development of any country requires a comprehensive approach towards progress while giving equal importance to material and non-material values with a view to search for happiness. It is also used to measure the overall happiness and well-being of the population of the country. The government of Bhutan functions on the basis of this principle. Gross National Happiness is a goal of the government of Bhutan, stated in the Constitution of Bhutan as enacted on the 18th of July 2008.

The four main goals of Gross National Happiness are: 1. sustainable and equitable socio-economic development 2. Environmental conservation 3. Preservation and promotion of culture 4. Good governance. They are considered the main pillars of the Gross National Happiness. These are then divided into nine domains for easier and more widespread understanding of the Gross National Happiness.
The nine domains of Gross National Happiness are: psychological well-being, health, time use, education, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience and living standards. Bhutan includes the traditional socio economic concerns of a country like health and education as well as less traditional aspects of society including cultural and psychological well-being in Gross National Happiness. These domains represent the elements of contentment of the Bhutanese people.

 Each domain is measured with subjective and objective indicators. Each domain is equally weighed as they are considered equal on basis of their fundamental importance in the Gross National Happiness. These domains are then broken down on the basis of population group. For example on the basis of men, women or district to show which group has fallen behind in education or sanitation. Within each domain around two to four indicators are selected. The criteria for the selection of the indicators are: they should remain objective over time, should have high- response rates from the public and should be largely uncorrelated. Within each domain, the objective indicators are given a higher importance than the subjective indicators.

The Gross National Happiness index is calculated by a multifaceted methodology known as the Alkire- Foster method. The Government of Bhutan’s centre for Bhutan Studies released the updated version of the Gross National Happiness Index in 2011. According to the index, there are 33 indicators of the domains. The index desires to establish the national development by taking the individual achievement of each person as the starting point in each indicator. Using a variation is Alkire- Foster method, the Gross National Happiness generates three types of results: the headcount, the intensity and the overall GNH index.
 The headcount refers to the percentage of citizens of Bhutan who are happy and intensity refers to the average number of domains in which contain the people who are not yet happy are happy.

In Bhutan, the Gross National Happiness Commission implements the GNH. This commission initiates and implements the country’s nine year plans. It also introduces various policies which have to be in accordance to the concepts of the Gross National Happiness.
 The first survey of Gross National Happiness was conducted in 2008. The second survey was conducted in 2010 and the third survey was conducted in 2015. The first survey, being really detailed took around nine hours for the participants to answer. Bhutan has since refined the survey by reducing the number of questions making it more comprehensive and easier to answer.

 These surveys include information about various demographic factors like gender, age and occupation. The Bhutan Gross National Happiness is used to measure progress in society. The data obtained by the various surveys of Gross National Happiness is used to compare the degree of happiness between various groups which changes over time. The stated goal is that all the government policies and projects should work together to maximise the Gross National Happiness of the country.

The Gross National Happiness has greatly influenced Bhutan’s economic and social policy. As it gives greater importance to the happiness of the general population and hence provides for a more holistic progress of the country.
In 2011, the UN General Committee passed a resolution named “Holistic approach to development” asking all the member countries to follow the example set by Bhutan and to give high importance to happiness for the sustainable development of the nation is terms of happiness and well-being of the general population. In April 2012, a UN High-Level meeting was held based on “ Happiness and Wellbeing- Defining a New Economic Paradigm” which aimed to bring together the various world leader, experts and spiritual leaders and to work together to develop a new economic model based on sustainability and wellbeing of the general population of the nations. 20th of March was declared as International Day of Happiness by the UN in 2012.

Though Bhutan is credited with having introduced the concept of Gross National Happiness, it is facing some problems in total and effective implementation of the concept. According to World Happiness Record, Bhutan’s rank is ninety seventh out of the one hundred fifty seven countries which were included in the survey. Finland came first in the list with Norway close behind.

The other countries soon realized that more importance has to be given to its members and to their happiness as this would lead to quicker progress and development of the nations. This resulted in many countries following the path shown by Bhutan by giving utmost importance to the happiness of all its members for the comprehensive growth of the nation as a whole. This has led to GNH being genuinely considered as a suitable indicator of a nation's growth. 

“There is no path to happiness: happiness is the path” - Buddha

- Debosmita Bhattacharya 

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Gross National Happiness: An alternative indicator of Growth Gross National Happiness: An alternative indicator of Growth Reviewed by EMN on March 26, 2019 Rating: 5

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