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I recently did a piece on Finland to understand what makes it the happiest country in the world? As per the world happiness report of the United Nations, Finland has the precious honor of being the world’s happiest nation and as you will see in the article we wrote on this blog, they have earned it through a meticulous system of public policy and social culture.
However, the country which is even more famous than Finland for the idea of happiness globally than Finland is not Finland but Bhutan. This piece will try and understand what Gross National Happiness means for Bhutan and how successful they have been in making Bhutan happier with this measure. If they are happy, what makes Bhutan so happy?
Well, in terms of success, the news lately hasn’t been great from a perspective of the global happiness survey. As per the World happiness report 2019, Bhutan ranked 95th out of 156 countries. Therefore, the country’s success on the parameters set by the United Nations is not quite remarkable but we can sure learn something from the measures used by the government of Bhutan in attempting to track the happiness of its people.
What is the origin of Gross National Happiness?
The measure is a philosophical doctrine that guides the government of Bhutan in understanding if their people are happy. It was instituted as the goal of the government of Bhutan on 18th July 2008.
In 2011, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution called “Happiness: towards a holistic approach to development” urging member nations to follow the example of Bhutan is tracking and improving the state of happiness of its people. Although the term was coined by one of the founding fathers of European Union Sicco Mansholt, it is attributed to Bhutan since they adopted it as state policy.
However, if the Bhutanese are happy as people remains a matter of contention as per the happiness report rankings, as they haven’t been well on the world happiness indicators. What does GNP really measure?
It has been divided into four pillars and nine domains.
According to the Bhutanese government, there are four pillars of GNP:
- Sustainable and equitable socio-economic development;
- Environmental conservation;
- Preservation and promotion of culture; and
- Good governance.
A first look at these pillars and domains tells us that the pillars are macro measures and are for the government to work on, and the domains are specific. The pillars and domains are used in conjunction to arrive at GNP outcomes.
Is Bhutan the happiest country in the world? We don’t know. As per the world happiness report, it is not. Is it on other indicators, and if it is, what are those indicators? What is Bhutan doing right?
The measurement at the individual level of the GNP translates into a 30 page questionnaire to be filled by all citizens which measures their state of happiness. The outcome of the responses to the questionnaire determines public policy. Bhutan is primarily a Buddhist country and therefore the spiritual well-being of her people is a priority for the government of Bhutan.
Happiness is the outcome of feeling that your desires are being fulfilled or having low desires to start with. Now, with technology creeping in the life of the Bhutanese, the desires could be increasing. If the desires increase and they are not fulfilled, it leads to frustration and a feeling of unhappiness. Also, Bhutan has carefully preserved its ecological balance by allowing only a restricted number of tourists to the country on an annual basis, but the need for economic advancement may push that balance as well in future.
At a foundational level, the domains are idealistic.
Who wouldn’t want respectable living standards, psychological well being, and education? However, some of the standards incorporated in the GNP are unique to Bhutan. Measures like community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience make Bhutan’s quest for happiness unique.
Irrespective of the world happiness rankings, as per a Bhutanese media article, the happiness levels in Bhutan have improved between 2010 and 2015. Therefore, just because the world happiness report places Bhutan at 95th, is not to be taken as a sign of unhappiness within the Bhutanese people. In 2015, 43.4% of Bhutan’s people who answered the survey mentioned that they were deeply happy, out of 91.2% reporting experiencing happiness.
If one goes by this statistic, then Bhutan is clearly one of the happiest nations on the planet, if not the happiest. The criterion of estimating GNP differs from that of the world happiness report. Bhutan values spirituality and compassion and uses them as measures in guiding the understanding of happiness within the nation.
These are two different ways to looking at life and what makes a human life happy.
The world happiness report looks at economics first perspective of the world and that more GDP per capita or money leads to more happiness. On the other hand, Bhutan is looking at simplicity of life, spirituality and compassion being the sources of happiness.
It is quite an enigmatic question and something one would try to understand at a spiritual level. If the Bhutanese people are indeed happier as their GNP levels indicate, then the measures adopted by the rest of the world to increase economic wealth at the cost of important factors like climate change would lead to long term unhappiness.
In the year of the Corona Virus where a large proportion of the world economy has tanked and large swathes of the world population are suffering from unemployment and poverty, we need to really consider the things we have tied our happiness to.
That is really the question which makes the difference between the scores on the world happiness report and those measured by Bhutan. Bhutan doesn’t quite consider GDP as the actual measure of happiness.
To put it simply, the question is mindless pursuit of money or happiness?
The world happiness report and the rest of the world is going in the direction of a happiness which is guided by money and monetary pursuits, while on the other hand, the example of Bhutan is an aberration to that rule. Bhutan wants happiness over money and looks at the pursuit of money opposite to the pursuit of happiness. Therefore, it wants to preserve its ecology over creating more factories and economic progress.
As I finish this piece, I hope that Bhutan and its people are truly happy and that they can show the world one day that mindless pursuit of money does not lead to happiness. What Bhutan is doing with GNP is Utopian and as a writer on happiness who despises the materialistic life, I hope they succeed in finding happiness and show the world the way they know.
Thank you for reading.
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