Should we bin GDP and measure our country’s success by GNH? (Gross National Happiness) – Bhutan thinks so…

15th July 2022

As the readers of our blog know, we’re a bit obsessed with happiness at Secret Source. It is the core of all our values and defines everything we do, so when we read about Bhutan’s GNH (Gross National Happiness) index which measures the collective happiness and general wellbeing of the population we were intrigued.

We’ve always felt that GDP is not a good measure of a country’s success. Surely the most successful countries should have the lowest poverty rates or lowest wage discrepancies or best education or longest lifespan, not just the most money. Yes, money is important but is it the MOST important thing?

And then we read about Bhutan who measure success by happiness levels not money, and it got us thinking. In Bhutan they believe that development should have values and they measure their country’s success by happiness, specifically using their Gross National Happiness Index (GNH). It’s not just some marketing fluff either, it was officially instituted as the goal of the government of Bhutan in the Constitution of Bhutan in 2008. 

Photo by Prateek Katyal and Unsplash 

Instead of measuring how much money they generate, they ask questions such as “How happy did you feel yesterday?” and “How often do you practice meditation?”

But measuring happiness is just the start. As happiness defines their success, happiness actually guides government policy. How refreshing is that! When deciding new policies their King says “If the policy does not have a good amount of happiness index, if the policy is not very environmentally friendly, if the policy will not be able to ensure that it will result in the well-being of Bhutanese, that policy will never be approved in the country.” 

Bhutan’s government will not do anything unless it improves the well-being of their citizens! Listen up world leaders. 

GNH values collective happiness. In Bhutan happiness is governed by 9 pillars – psychological well-being, health, time use, education, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience, and living standards. So every decision must fulfil those pillars and if they don’t it won’t become policy. Whilst it still remains one of the poorest countries on the planet they have already made some impressive achievements, reaching almost 100% enrollment in primary schools and managing to maintain over 60% of its country under forest cover, despite the massive economic pressure for logging.

Photo by Unma Desai on Unsplash

Development with values is even starting to have a wider effect and in 2011 the UN urged all member nations to follow Bhutan’s lead and measure happiness and well-being and called happiness a “fundamental human goal. Many cities and countries around the world are starting to take notice with councils from Vermont to Sao Paolo and British Columbia to Thailand starting to measure happiness.

However, you might think “if happiness is the government’s goal and is all Bhutan’s government is worried about, why isn’t it the happiest country in the world?” In the 2019 World Happiness Report it actually only ranked 95th out of 156 countries. 

The World Happiness Report measures six variables: income, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on in times of trouble, generosity, freedom and trust, with the latter measured by the absence of corruption in business and government. And whilst Bhutan has admirable intentions it still has very high poverty levels and is facing the challenges of bringing social and economic equality to a predominantly agricultural society, so it will struggle to rank highly in this report for a long time. In 2021 it was excluded from the World Happiness Report because of a technicality on polling yet it did get an honourable mention saying it “once again provided an inspiring example for the world about how to combine health and happiness. They made explicit use of the principles of Gross National Happiness in mobilising the whole population in collaborative efforts to avoid even a single COVID-19 death in 2020, despite having strong international travel links.” 

So, even though Bhutan hasn’t quite reached the levels of happiness of Finland yet, their achievements, given their history (television was only introduced in 1999 and there are still no traffic lights in the capital) are nothing short of astounding. Over the last three decades life expectancy has increased from just over 50 to over 70, plastic bags have been banned since 1999, tobacco since 2005 (making it the first smoke free nation) and it is not only carbon neutral, it is carbon negative!

Photo by Raimond Klavins on Unsplash

The king summarised very nicely how the GNH works:

“When we know that monetary wealth and material wealth will not translate to what you actually want in your life … peace of mind and happiness … then why should we target that as our main objective?

At Secret Source we have always believed that happiness is the secret to success and we measure it every week. But, like Bhutan, we’ve learnt that it’s not the measuring that matters. For happiness to make a difference you have to truly believe that happiness is the most important thing and it must drive every decision you make. If the pursuit of happiness is not part of your core values, if you don’t live it every day, if you don’t prioritise happiness over everything else then nothing will change. Bhutan is an example to us all that there are more important things in life than revenue and profits.

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