bhutan1 bhutan2

Starting Point: A tiny, poor, semi-feudal nation with a primarily agricultural economy

Organizing Strategy: Buddhist spiritual approach

Tools: King’s enthusiasm for democratic reforms and willingness to share resources and power; development of a survey and related metrics to assess happiness as the premier value of society and success of a nation, rather than GNP or GDP

Outcomes: Perhaps the most interesting country in the world from a sustainability and community perspective

Primary Resources:


From Wikipedia:

The term “gross national happiness” was coined in 1972 by Bhutan‘s fourth Dragon King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who opened Bhutan to the age of modernization soon after the demise of his father, Jigme Dorji Wangchuk. He used this phrase to signal his commitment to building an economy that would serve Bhutan’s unique culture based on Buddhist spiritual values. At first offered as a casual, offhand remark, the concept was taken seriously, as the Centre for Bhutan Studies, under the leadership of Karma Ura, developed a sophisticated survey instrument to measure the population’s general level of well-being.[4] Two Canadians, Michael and Martha Pennock played a major role in developing the Bhutanese survey, which took a six to seven-hour interview to complete. They developed a shorter international version of the survey which has been used in their home region of Victoria BC as well as in Brazil. The Pennocks also collaborated with Ura in the production of a policy lens which is used by the Bhutanese GNH Commission for anticipating the impact of policy initiatives upon the levels of GNH in Bhutan[5]

Like many psychological and social indicators, GNH is somewhat easier to state than to define with mathematical precision. Nonetheless, it serves as a unifying vision for Bhutan’s five-year planning process and all the derived planning documents that guide the economic and development plans of the country. Proposed policies in Bhutan must pass a GNH review based on a GNH impact statement that is similar in nature to the Environmental Impact Statement required for development in the U.S.

The Bhutanese grounding in Buddhist ideals suggests that beneficial development of human society takes place when material and spiritual development occur side by side to complement and reinforce each other. The four pillars of GNH are the promotion ofsustainable development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of thenatural environment, and establishment of good governance. At this level of generality, the concept of GNH is transcultural—a nation need not be Buddhist to value sustainable development, cultural integrity, ecosystem conservation, and good governance. Through collaboration with an international group of scholars and empirical researchers the Centre for Bhutan Studies further defined these four pillars with greater specificity into eight general contributors to happiness—physical, mental and spiritual health; time-balance; social and community vitality; cultural vitality; education; living standards; good governance; and ecological vitality. Although the GNH framework reflects its Buddhist origins, it is solidly based upon the empirical research literature of happiness, positive psychology and well-being.

In 2013, the President of Singapore Dr Tony Tan proposed that in addition to building up substantial financial reserves, Singapore also needed to focus on building up its “social reserves“, a concept that appears to have parallels to GNH.[7]

Qualitative and quantitative indicators[edit]

There is no exact quantitative definition of GNH,[8] but elements that contribute to GNH are subject to quantitative measurement. Low rates of infant mortality, for instance, correlate positively with subjective expressions of well-being or happiness within a country. The practice of social science has long been directed toward transforming subjective expression of large numbers of people into meaningful quantitative data; there is no major difference between asking people “how confident are you in the economy?” and “how satisfied are you with your job?”

GNH, like the Genuine Progress Indicator, refers to the concept of a quantitative measurement of well-being and happiness. The two measures are both motivated by the notion that subjective measures like well-being are more relevant and important than more objective measures like consumption. It is not measured directly, but only the factors which are believed to lead to it.

According to Daniel Kahneman, a Princeton University Economist, happiness can be measured using the day reconstruction method, which consists in recollecting memories of the previous working day by writing a short diary.[9]

A second-generation GNH concept, treating happiness as a socioeconomic development metric, was proposed in 2006 by Med Jones, the President of International Institute of Management. The metric measures socioeconomic development by tracking seven development areas including the nation’s mental and emotional health.[10] GNH value is proposed to be an index function of the total average per capita of the following measures:

  1. Economic Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of economic metrics such as consumer debt, average income to consumer price index ratio and income distribution
  2. Environmental Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of environmental metrics such as pollution, noise and traffic
  3. Physical Wellness: Indicated via statistical measurement of physical health metrics such as severe illnesses
  4. Mental Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of mental health metrics such as usage of antidepressants and rise or decline of psychotherapy patients
  5. Workplace Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of labor metrics such as jobless claims, job change, workplace complaints and lawsuits
  6. Social Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of social metrics such as discrimination, safety, divorce rates, complaints of domestic conflicts and family lawsuits, public lawsuits, crime rates
  7. Political Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of political metrics such as the quality of local democracy, individual freedom, and foreign conflicts.

The above seven metrics were incorporated into the first Global GNH Survey.[11]

Ed Diener, a psychologist from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has developed a scale referred to as subjective well-being, a concept related to happiness and quality of life, which has been used to compare nations to each other on this construct.[12] This study found that “high income, individualism, human rights, and social equality correlated strongly with each other, and with SWB” (p. 851, abstract).

Adam Kramer, a psychologist from the University of Oregon, has developed a behavioral model of “Gross National Happiness” based on the use of positive and negative words in social network status updates, resulting in a quantitative GNH metric.