13 February 2014 — Westerners are fascinated by Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness index, but this nation is more than a “Himalayan Disneyland,” writes Gretchen Legler in Orion magazine.
The GNH is part of Bhutan’s plan for “negotiating the wilderness of modernisation without losing its soul. Every schoolchild, public policymaker, teacher, citizen and civil servant has been asked to help create a society based on the four pillars of GNH: sustainable and equitable economic development, conservation of the environment, preservation and promotion of culture, and good governance.”
What’s the definition of happiness anyway?
It’s about “harmony, striking a balance, so you’re not just focusing on individual emotion but the enabling conditions that will facilitate an individual pursuit of happiness”.
Here’s an excerpt:
The first step in putting GNH into motion as a national policy was determining how happy, or unhappy, the Bhutanese really are. To do this, Bhutan created an “official measure of happiness,” which calculates life satisfaction in nine happiness domains: psychological well-being, health, education, time use, cultural diversity and resilience, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience, living standards (which includes economic well-being), and good governance. Under those nine domains are thirty-three additional indicators that allowed census takers to record and then measure how a citizen scored in a particular domain.
While economic well-being is still a very important aspect of GNH, other aspects of well-being also were emphasized when Bhutan’s happiness census workers went from house to house. Census workers asked questions such as: How many healthy days do you have in a year? Do you know local folktales? Do you know what the constitution is? Do you know how HIV/AIDS is transmitted? How seriously do you take the Driglam Namzha (the national code of etiquette and conduct, which prescribes, for instance, how one folds the sleeves of one’s gho, and just how low to bow when one meets the king)? Do you speak your native language, know how to weave, paint, carve, or work with gold and silver? Do you meditate and pray regularly? Do you trust your neighbors? Do you have a toilet, electricity, a metal roof? Do you believe in karma?
The 2010 Bhutanese Happiness Survey charted responses from 7,142 of the country’s 750,000 citizens. As a nation, Bhutan scored 0.743 on its Real GNH Index. So far, no other country has used Bhutan’s GNH formula, so there is no way to directly compare Bhutan with other nations, but the survey did show that just over 40 percent of Bhutanese are “happy” or have “sufficiency in six or more domains.” The 59 percent of Bhutanese who are “not-yet-happy” “lack sufficiency” in 43 percent of the domains.
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The Centre for Bhutan Studies takes pains on its GNH website to make the numbers accessible. “Dorji has sufficiency in seven domains, so he is happy, while Tashi has sufficiency in four domains, so she is considered not-yet-happy,” the website reads. “Think of these domains as nine offering bowls,” the explanation continues. “To be fully happy, six or more bowls should be full for every person.”