The Happiness Index - How Prosperous Are You?

By Jean Folger | March 17, 2010 AAA
The Happiness Index - How Prosperous Are You?

"Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product." - Jigme Singye Wangchuck, 4th King of Bhutan

An Enlightened Society is a Prosperous Society
Bhutan, called "Druk Yul" by its residents (a Dzongka phrase meaning Land of the Thunder Dragon), is a predominantly Buddhist country in South Asia. While most of the world relies on economic factors for measuring growth and prosperity, Bhutan has forged a new path by basing growth on national happiness. Bhutan's Gross National Happiness Index measures the overall well being, security and happiness of its residents.

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Following years of discussion, in 2008, coinciding with the coronation of the 5th King of Bhutan, His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, the Royal Government of Bhutan, adopted the Gross National Happiness (GNH) Index. The purpose of the GNH Index is to reflect GNH values, set benchmarks and track policies and performances for the country.

King Khesar has stated that the ultimate goal for social, economic and political change in Bhutan is the fulfillment of the GNH, and that a GNH society means the creation of an enlightened society in which happiness and well-being of all people and sentient beings is the ultimate purpose of governance. Happiness of the people was made the guiding goal of development. (Find out how Milton Friedman's monetarist theory helped bring the U.S. out of the economic doldrums, in Stagflation, 1970s Style.)

Money Can't Buy Happiness
The Bhutanese believe that traditional measurements of growth, such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP), are based on rapid material consumption, and are heavily biased towards increased production and use, regardless of the need or desirability of such outputs. They are, therefore, biased against conservation, community cohesion and environmental and cultural preservation.

The GNH Index is calculated using a series of GNH indicators that can be measured as having a positive or negative influence on well-being and happiness. For example, less crime, illness and air pollution have a more positive influence on happiness than more crime, illness and pollution. The GNH metrics include both objective and subjective dimensions of life. An example is crime: Crime statistics provide objective data, whereas a person's perception of their own safety and security supply subjective information.

A Collective Goal
Indeed as a culture, the Bhutanese strive to find inner sources of happiness, rather than relying on superficially derived pleasure, such as materialism and external stimulation. Pleasurable feelings come from shutting down sensory inputs, and the related mental chatter. They believe that meditation may lead the brain's neural pathways to be changed so that calmness and contentment can become a personality trait. In other words, the brain can be trained to be happy.

GNH and the Bhutanese culture encourage individuals to see the interdependence of all things: that all aspects of life depend on fostering healthy relationships, whether it is between the people and the government, or a farmer and his land. In order to achieve collective happiness, the ideals of interdependence need to be sought by everyone. A GNH society seeks to elevate its vision beyond individual self interest to concentrate on the happiness of all – as a collective goal. The government of Bhutan incorporates all aspects of the GNH into public policies and plans with the goal of achieving an enlightened, happy society.

Calculating the Index
The GNH Index is based on the results of survey questionnaires given to randomly selected residents from different districts in Bhutan, including remote, semi-urban and urban areas. The questionnaire covers key areas affecting the values and principles of GNH divided into the following domains:

  • Psychological Well-Being
  • Time Use
  • Community Vitality
  • Culture
  • Health
  • Education
  • Environmental Diversity
  • Living Standard
  • Governance

Happiness occurs when there are sufficient achievements in each of these nine dimensions.

The Gross National Happiness Index is used to reflect the happiness and general well-being of the Bhutanese population more accurately and profoundly than they believe a monetary measure would provide. The Index provides information to the Bhutanese people and the rest of the world about the current levels of human fulfillment in Bhutan.

How Would You Fare?
In a world where prosperity and growth are often measured in economic terms and keeping up with the Joneses, Bhutan stands alone in gauging these factors on happiness. If your prosperity were measured in terms of happiness, rather than in net worth, how would you fare? How would your government's policy change if happiness were the driving force? These are not easy questions to answer, but Bhutan is pioneering this concept through its Gross National Happiness Index.

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