1st July 2018

What is Gross National Happiness (GNH)?

What are the basic parameters of development in your country? In Bhutan, a tiny Himalayan nation roughly the size of Switzerland, the country’s aggregate prosperity is derived from the level of happiness of its people.

A series of handcrafted signs adorn the side of the winding mountain road that stretches between the airport and the Bhutanese capital, Thimpu. Instead of commands to check mirrors or cut speed, these signs offer the traveler of a series of uplifting mantras. “Life is a journey! Complete it!” says one, while the other one reminds drivers to, “Let nature be your guide”. It is an aptly uplifting welcome to visitors to this remote kingdom of, a land of ancient monasteries, beating prayer flags, and surreal natural beauty.

The phrase “gross national happiness” was first coined by the 4th King of Bhutan, King Jigme SingyeWangchuck, in 1972 when he declared, “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product.” In simple words, the concept means that sustainable development should take a holistic approach towards ideas of progress and give equal significance to non-economic aspects of wellbeing such as physical, environmental, and social aspects.

Specially over the past three decades, the belief that wellbeing should be priotized over material growth has remained a global oddity. Now, in a world characterized by collapsing economic systems, gross inequity, and wide-scale environmental destruction, this small Buddhist state’s approach is attracting a lot of interest. In 2011, even UN adopted Bhutan’s call for a holistic approach to development, a move endorsed by over 68 countries to be replicated across the globe!

The GNH index consists of both traditional areas of socio-economic concern like living standards, health and education and less conventional aspects of culture and psychological wellbeing.

The main nine domains of GNH index are:

  • Health
  • Education
  • Psychological wellbeing
  • Time Use
  • Good Governance
  • Cultural diversity and resilience
  • Community vitality
  • Ecological diversity and resilience
  • Living standards

There are altogether 33 indicators in the 9 domains mentioned above and the Index seeks to measure the nation’s wellbeing directly by starting with each person’s achievements in each individual indicator. The Index itself is based on the Alkire Forest methodology of multidimensional measurement, which has been applied for this purpose. It recognizes four groups of people – unhappy, narrowly happy, extensively happy, and deeply happy. The analysis explores the happiness that already exists, then focuses on how people can increase their happiness and sufficiency among the narrowly happy and unhappy people.

The Index, the headcount, and the intensity are all “decomposable”, meaning they can be broken down by population group, for instance, to show the composition of GNH among men and women, by district, and by dimension, for example to show which group is lacking what.

Less than mere 40 years ago, Bhutan opened its gates for the first time to the world. Since then, it has garnered an almost mythical status as a real-life Shangri-La, mainly for its determined and methodical pursuit of the most elusive of concepts – national happiness.

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