THIMPHU, Bhutan – For decades, countries have used Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to measure success; GDP captures a wide array of demographic statistics, including economic stability, infrastructure and development, political state and citizen happiness. The Kingdom of Bhutan, however, takes an unconventional angle on measuring success.
Instead of GDP, the small, Asian country uses happiness as the primary metric for creating development plans and measuring success and stability. The country has created its own index to measure happiness and–according to the government and Devex–“the Gross National Happiness (GNH) is a ‘more holistic approach’ to development that has gained praises and global attention.”
The GNH has four pillars it uses to gauge happiness: good governance, sustainable socio-economic development, cultural preservation and environmental conservation. Recently, the Bhutan Foundation has expanded the pillars into nine domains, including psychological well-being, health, education, time use, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience and living standards.
The GNH has produced some interesting findings concerning happy people. According to GNH measures, men are happier than women on average. There tend to be more happy people in urban areas as compared to rural areas. Furthermore, urban areas have higher scores in the domains of health, living standards and education; rural areas are better in community vitality, cultural resilience, and good governance.
Outside of Bhutan, this more holistic approach to measuring happiness has taken hold. Launched in 2012, the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (UHSDSN) brings together experts from all over the world to tackle global development needs and produce plans to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs.) The UNSDSN released its World Happiness Report in 2013. According to the report, “the OECD is leading the way in developing clear standards so that cross-country comparisons can be made.”
Furthermore, psychologists from the University of Leicester created the first ever world map of happiness in 2006. Utilizing data from UNESCO, the World Health Organization, the CIA, and the United Nations Human Development reports, the map provides a subjective illustration of happiness worldwide. According the map, the top 5 happiest countries are Denmark, Switzerland, Austria, Iceland and the Bahamas. Bhutan ranked as no. 8, and the United States came in at Number 23.
Although happiness metrics such as the GNH are gaining recognition, some are critical and claim these measures to be too abstract. “There has been too much focus on promoting GNH rather than creating such an enabling environment for happiness to happen,” Bhutan Foundation program director Ugen Choden told Devex. With nearly a quarter of the population living below the poverty line, there is a need for concrete solutions instead of abstract goals.
“Making happiness the ultimate goal of development is not wrong,” states Devex, “but using only abstract concepts to achieve it may be.” Countries such as Bhutan must utilize holistic approaches with realistic steps of action to realize both happiness and sustainable development goals.
– Mallory Thayer
Sources: YouTube, Gross National Happiness, University of Leicester, UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network
Photo: Sports Alcohol