The 9 ingredients of Gross National Happiness

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The flight path descending into Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, a tiny Buddhist kingdom perched atop the mountainous region southeast of Tibet, is among the most dangerous in the world. Landing on the short tarmac spread out between the Himalayan crags requires high visibility because pilots must zig-zag between these peaks without the aid of radar.

Such is the expected seclusion of the country commonly known by the mystical name of the Land of the Thunder Dragon. But despite being an aid-dependent semi-theocracy of just 738,000 that only lifted a ban on TV in 1999, Bhutan’s fledging steps into the free market have allowed policymakers there to experiment with unorthodox ideas while being unshackled by the precedents set in larger, more developed economies.

First coined by the fourth king of Bhutan over 30 years ago, Gross National Happiness (GNH) is a suggested tool for guiding countries towards a more enlightened Eastern growth path compared to the environmentally ignorant and socially apathetic measures of the West.

This week, Time magazine published a telling article on this Eastern alternative to GDP. According to the article, Bhutan’s 2010 GNH survey was a seven-year project in the making that included 8,000 interviews. Surveyors visited participants’ homes to ask them numerous probing questions such as: “How many people can you count on for help in case you get sick? How often do you talk about spirituality with your kids? When did you last spend time socialising with your neighbours? How comfortable are you with your level of household debt?”

The conclusion was the first-ever GNH index, in which Bhutan scored a 0.743 on a scale from 0 to 1.

In the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, economists are now turning a curious gaze towards the hermit kingdom’s philosophical metric, which many believe might prove to be a helpful supplement to conventional indicators in measuring the elusive goal of sustainable growth.

Bhutan’s prescription for piecing together the measurement of happiness is built on “four pillars”: sustainable economic development, conservation of the environment, preservation of culture and good governance – – all of which naysayers believe are severely lacking in the past decade’s economic leader, China. Within these blocks, nine elemental ingredients are considered:

  • Psychological well-being
  • Health
  • Time use
  • Education
  • Cultural diversity and resilience
  • Good governance
  • Community vitality
  • Ecological diversity and resilience
  • Living standards

Realising that every culture interprets happiness differently, the French government has begun funding research to develop tools to measure the well-being of countries dependent upon each culture’s interpretation. In turn, the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the club of rich countries, launched the Your Better Life Index, a new web tool that allows users to weigh 11 different measures of well-being according to their order of importance.

Yet for all the inadequacies GDP has in measuring the quality and sustainability of civilisation’s progress forward, an indicator that has resulted in vast inequality and environmental degradation, skeptics believe that a conventional system will remain prominent because of GNH’s lack of sensitivity to data input. GDP was first used after the Great Depression as a tool to help policymakers predict future economic trouble and steer economies out of disastrous courses, using interest rates and infrastructure spending and guiding indicators.

GNH has no such ability to toggle data. But there are signs that similar systems may pick up in prevalence around the world. Canada, for example, has now adopted the Canadian Index of Wellbeing, which is created using a composite of 64 statistics and includes no interviews, unlike Bhutan’s GNH. Unearthing the secret to happiness may have once been a utopian dream, but for the tiny Kingdom of Bhutan, big dreams are never too far-fetched.

 

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

The flight path descending into Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, a tiny Buddhist kingdom perched atop the mountainous region southeast of Tibet, is among the most dangerous in the world. Landing on the short tarmac spread out between the Himalayan crags requires high visibility because pilots must zig-zag between these peaks without the aid of radar.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The flight path descending into Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, a tiny Buddhist kingdom perched atop the mountainous region southeast of Tibet, is among the most dangerous in the world. Landing on the short tarmac spread out between the Himalayan crags requires high visibility because pilots must zig-zag between these peaks without the aid of radar.

Such is the expected seclusion of the country commonly known by the mystical name of the Land of the Thunder Dragon. But despite being an aid-dependent semi-theocracy of just 738,000 that only lifted a ban on TV in 1999, Bhutan’s fledging steps into the free market have allowed policymakers there to experiment with unorthodox ideas while being unshackled by the precedents set in larger, more developed economies.

First coined by the fourth king of Bhutan over 30 years ago, Gross National Happiness (GNH) is a suggested tool for guiding countries towards a more enlightened Eastern growth path compared to the environmentally ignorant and socially apathetic measures of the West.

This week, Time magazine published a telling article on this Eastern alternative to GDP. According to the article, Bhutan’s 2010 GNH survey was a seven-year project in the making that included 8,000 interviews. Surveyors visited participants’ homes to ask them numerous probing questions such as: “How many people can you count on for help in case you get sick? How often do you talk about spirituality with your kids? When did you last spend time socialising with your neighbours? How comfortable are you with your level of household debt?”

The conclusion was the first-ever GNH index, in which Bhutan scored a 0.743 on a scale from 0 to 1.

In the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, economists are now turning a curious gaze towards the hermit kingdom’s philosophical metric, which many believe might prove to be a helpful supplement to conventional indicators in measuring the elusive goal of sustainable growth.

Bhutan’s prescription for piecing together the measurement of happiness is built on “four pillars”: sustainable economic development, conservation of the environment, preservation of culture and good governance – – all of which naysayers believe are severely lacking in the past decade’s economic leader, China. Within these blocks, nine elemental ingredients are considered:

  • Psychological well-being
  • Health
  • Time use
  • Education
  • Cultural diversity and resilience
  • Good governance
  • Community vitality
  • Ecological diversity and resilience
  • Living standards

Realising that every culture interprets happiness differently, the French government has begun funding research to develop tools to measure the well-being of countries dependent upon each culture’s interpretation. In turn, the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the club of rich countries, launched the Your Better Life Index, a new web tool that allows users to weigh 11 different measures of well-being according to their order of importance.

Yet for all the inadequacies GDP has in measuring the quality and sustainability of civilisation’s progress forward, an indicator that has resulted in vast inequality and environmental degradation, skeptics believe that a conventional system will remain prominent because of GNH’s lack of sensitivity to data input. GDP was first used after the Great Depression as a tool to help policymakers predict future economic trouble and steer economies out of disastrous courses, using interest rates and infrastructure spending and guiding indicators.

GNH has no such ability to toggle data. But there are signs that similar systems may pick up in prevalence around the world. Canada, for example, has now adopted the Canadian Index of Wellbeing, which is created using a composite of 64 statistics and includes no interviews, unlike Bhutan’s GNH. Unearthing the secret to happiness may have once been a utopian dream, but for the tiny Kingdom of Bhutan, big dreams are never too far-fetched.

 

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