Like Bhutan, Should We Be Measuring National Happiness Instead Of GDP?

by John Johnston on 02/27/2011

in Culture,Living,Politics,Social

Bhutan villager

Bhutan gives well-being a key role in national policy. In the tiny Kingdom, “happiness” rhetoric is the political norm. The idea of “Gross National Happiness” (GNH) is enshrined in official documents, and also used to justify Bhutan’s ambitious environmental policies, China Dialogue has reported.

During the 1980s, former King Jigme Singye Wangchuck decreed, via the Bhutanese Planning Commission, that government success must be evaluated by how happy the people become.

Gross National Happiness had then become a way of measuring human progress, instead of the internationally favored, and entirely more economics based Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The overarching idea is that a nation whose happiness is growing is making more progress than one that is just making money, but not becoming happier in the process. It has been well documented that happiness has not risen as wealth has increased in highly developed countries.

In Bhutan, promotion of sustainable development, environmental conservation, preservation and promotion of cultural values, and the establishment of good governance, are the four key pillars for Gross National Happiness.

A new Bhutan constitution came into being with the first elected democratic government in 2008. The now prime minister, Jigmi Y Thinley, is said to be a vocal proponent of Gross National Happiness and environmental protection.

In terms of environmental management, the constitution maintains that 60% of Bhutan’s total land shall be kept as forest cover “for all time”. The country has actually increased its forest cover from 45% during the 1960s to 72% today. Bhutan has also declared internationally, at the Copenhagen climate talks, that it would maintain permanent carbon neutrality.

Significantly, the Bhutanese prime minister has said,

“Climate change is the result of our way of life that is driven by insatiable human greed. Our GDP-based economic development models, founded on the notion of endless growth, have promoted consumerism and materialism with little consideration for cultural and ecological costs”

“Guided by our unique philosophy of Gross National Happiness, Bhutan has so far been free of the guilt of contributing to climate change and has in fact been more successful than most other countries in conserving our natural environment.”

Bhutan’s 10th Five-Year Plan, running from 2008 to 2013, gives top priority to the environment. The country has also been exploring the possibilities of organic farming and cultural tourism to boost the country’s economy without compromising the environment. It has also been exploring areas such as education, health, finance and banking, ICT, construction and consultancy, as well as hydropower.

What do you think of this push for valuing Gross National Happiness above Gross Domestic Product? It this a worthwhile pursuit, or are we better off staying as we are?

Perhaps the question that goes to the heart of the matter is: does more economic wealth really equal more happiness? Please feel free to leave a comment and let us know your opinion.

Image of Bhutanese villager CC licensed by RadioFreeBarton

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  • http://twitter.com/evanhadkins evanhadkins

    Of course we should be measuring happiness instead of gdp. Economists even have a word for it (utility). Even they know they are not the same.
    It is interesting how the eco-rat (economic rationalist) language has captured the terms of public discussion.
    As to Bhutan the idea of preserving culture can lead to some pretty unpleasant discriminatory policies. Don’t know how the human rights situation is in Bhutan.

  • http://www.the9billion.com jjprojects

    The thing is, we seem to prize happiness highly too, it’s just that we seem to assume that money is the main way of getting it. Perhaps we are out of balance. It is surely true that poverty can also lead to unhappiness, but prioritizing wealth over other things is not adequate either.

  • http://twitter.com/NanoRaptor Dana Sibera

    We prize happiness, but we always see it as something in the future, something to be obtained, something we can allow ourselves to have after we’ve performed some task or reached a goal and then it’s there for the taking – and once we achieve our goal-of-the-year-or-whenever, we’ll have happiness and all will be well. Obtaining wealth being a big one, agreed.

    I think we get so obsessed with that happiness-to-come that we forget so much happiness (and I think it’s the vast bulk of it!) is in doing what we do, right now right here.

    That’s the only really measurable kind, too.

  • http://www.the9billion.com jjprojects

    Thanks Dana. Yes, I think we’ve got to enjoy the journey as much as the destination, because the journey is really all we have :)

  • Nathanyesudas

    Those who try to make money have always ended up with unhappiness in trying to preserve and enhance what has been made. 
    All countries should follow Bhutan.

  • Jaime MacGill

    I think it is interesting that you mentioned that this could lead to the suppression of cultural diversity; I hadn’t considered it.
    I am sure that there are plenty of people who find happiness in the pursuit of material goods. For those of us who don’t it is up to us to decide what makes us happy and pursue it.
    I think it is worth mentioning that just because happiness is measured, it doesn’t mean that all possess it.

  • Jaime MacGill

    I agree. It is important to enjoy life now. Who knows what the future will bring.

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