Gross National Happiness

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Slogan about Gross National Happiness in Thimphu's School of Traditional Arts

Gross National Happiness (GNH) is a measurement of the collective happiness in a nation.



In the 1970s, developing countries were focused on increasing economic success to help develop prosperity.[1] Bhutan's King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, however, believed an economic approach dehumanized the development process.[1] Wangchuck instead decided to focus on a concept that he called "Gross National Happiness".[1] In Bhutan, happiness was to be pursued by limiting access to foreign culture.[1] The success of a country would be measured by its remaining citizens' happiness.[1]

Later developments[edit]

The GNH concept evolved through the contribution of international and local scholars and researchers to become an initiative beyond the borders of Bhutan.

In 2005, Med Jones, an American economist, proposed a second generation GNH concept also known as Gross National Well-being or GNW, the first GNW / GNH Index and the first Global GNW / GNH Index Survey. The proposal served as a blueprint for the later well-being development frameworks and happiness econometric models.[2][3]

In 2006, the International Institute of Management published a policy white paper calling for the implementation of GNH philosophy in the US and inviting scholars to build upon the GNW/ GNH Index framework.[4] [5]

In 2010, the Centre for Bhutan Studies developed a survey instrument to measure the population's general level of well-being under the leadership of Karma Ura (ja).[6] Two Canadians, Michael and Martha Pennock played a major role in developing the Bhutanese survey, which took a six- to seven-hour interview to complete. They developed a shorter international version of the survey which has been used in their home region of Victoria BC as well as in Brazil. The Pennocks also collaborated with Ura in the production of a policy lens which is used by the Bhutanese GNH Commission for anticipating the impact of policy initiatives upon the levels of GNH in Bhutan.[7]

In 2012, the Center for Bhutan Studies further defined the original four pillars with greater specificity into eight general contributors to happiness—physical, mental and spiritual health; time-balance; social and community vitality; cultural vitality; education; living standards; good governance; and ecological vitality. The Bhutan GNH Index.[8] In 2010, The Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative OPHI at the University of Oxford in UK, launched the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) for the United Nations Development Programme, (UNDP). Similar to the GNH Index of 2005, OPHI promotes collection and analysis of data on five dimensions including Quality of work, Empowerment, Physical safety, Ability to go about without shame, Psychological wellbeing.[9] In 2011 UN General Assembly Resolution 65/309, titled "Happiness: towards a holistic approach to development".[10]

In 2016, Thailand launched its own GNH Initiative.[11]

In 2016, the government of Dubai established the Ministry of Happiness and referenced GNH as the background for the initiative.[12][13]

Quantitative and qualitative indicators[edit]

The implementation of a GNH policy was challenging in Bhutan due to the political transformation of the country and the emphasis on the spiritual and cultural aspects of GNH over economic development. Like many psychological and social indicators, GNH is somewhat easier to state than to define with mathematical precision. For more than thirty years, the GNH concept struggled to be accepted by policy makers and economists outside Bhutan due the subjective nature of happiness, the lack of a policy implementation framework and economic measurement system.

Although there were a few ad-hoc and independent surveys that attempted to measure the happiness or life satisfaction as a subjective score, up to 2005 there was no exact quantitative definition of GNH.[14]

Adam Kramer, a psychologist from the University of Oregon, has developed a behavioral model of "Gross National Happiness" based on the use of positive and negative words in social network status updates, resulting in a quantitative GNH metric.[15]


Domestic critics argue that emphasis on Bhutan's experiment with GNH has diverted global attention away from government suppression of the nation's largest minority, the Hindu Lhotshampa, who formerly comprised approximately one sixth of Bhutan's population before a campaign of ethnic cleansing forced many to leave.

From an economic perspective, critics state that because GNH depends on a series of subjective judgments about well-being, governments may be able to define GNH in a way that suits their interests. Economics professor Deirdre McCloskey criticizes such measurements as unscientific, saying that "Recording the percentage of people who say they are happy will tell you... [just] how people use words," making the analogy that society could not "base physics on asking people whether today was 'hot, nice, or cold'". McCloskey also criticizes the anti-consumerism of the movement to base government policy on happiness, asserting that "High culture has in fact always flourished in eras of lively commerce, from fifth-century Greece through Song dynasty and Renaissance Italy down to the Dutch Golden Age."[16]

Other critics say that international comparison of well-being will be difficult on this model; proponents maintain that each country can define its own measure of GNH as it chooses, and that comparisons over time between nations will have validity. GDP provides a convenient, international scale. Research demonstrates that markers of social and individual well-being are remarkably transcultural: people generally report greater subjective life satisfaction if they have strong and frequent social ties, live in healthy ecosystems, experience good governance, etc. Nevertheless, it remains true that reliance on national measures of GNH would render international comparisons of relative well-being more problematic, since there is not and is not likely ever to be a common scale as "portable" as GDP has been.[vague][17][18] Nevertheless, Bhutan's stated goal is to maximize whatever they see as GNH, not compare numbers with other countries.

GNH has only been officially used in Bhutan, where a Gross National Happiness Commission is charged with reviewing policy decisions and allocation of resources.[19] In 2013, with a new administration, the country shifted the focus from spreading GNH globally to the well-being of people within Bhutan.[20] This shift has been interpreted by some as an abandonment of GNH in favor of more standard development initiatives.[21]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d e Brooks, Arthur C. (2008-01-01). Gross National Happiness: Why Happiness Matters for America--and how We Can Get More of it. Basic Books. ISBN 0465002781. 
  2. ^ "Happiness Institute - Happiness Movement Leaders - Who is Who in Happiness Research". Retrieved 18 July 2015. 
  3. ^ "Article about the background of establishing Ministry of Happiness in Dubai". 
  4. ^ "Gross National Happiness (GNH) - A New Socioeconomic Development Policy Framework - A Policy White Paper - The American Pursuit of Unhappiness - Med Jones, IIM". 10 January 2005. Retrieved 7 November 2012. 
  5. ^ "Harvard Kennedy School Report to US Congressman 21st Century GDP: National Indicators for a New Era" (PDF). 
  6. ^ "Gross National Happiness". The Centre for Bhutan Studies. Retrieved 24 March 2011. 
  7. ^ Pennock, M; Ura, K. "Gross national happiness as a framework for health impact assessment". Environmental Impact Assessment Review. 31: 61–65. doi:10.1016/j.eiar.2010.04.003. 
  8. ^ "Bhutan GNH Index"
  9. ^ "A wealth of data". The Economist. 
  10. ^ UN Happiness Resolution"
  11. ^ "Thailand GNH Center". 
  12. ^ Melanie Swan. "Dubai brings in Happiness Index". Retrieved 18 July 2015. 
  13. ^ "With New Minister, United Arab Emirates Want to Top the World in Happiness, Too". New York Times. 9 February 2016. 
  14. ^ McDonald, Ross (2005). Rethinking Development. Local Pathways to Global Wellbeing (PDF). St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada. p. 3. 
  15. ^ An Unobtrusive Behavioral Model of "Gross National Happiness"
  16. ^ McCloskey, Deirdre N. (28 June 2012). "Happyism: The Creepy New Economics of Pleasure". The New Republic: 16–23. 
  17. ^ A Global Projection of Subjective Well-being: A Challenge to Positive Psychology?
  18. ^ Factors Predicting the Subjective Well-Being of Nations
  19. ^ Sonam. "Gross National Happiness Commission - The Planning Commission of Bhutan, Development for Happiness". Retrieved 23 October 2014. 
  20. ^ "Bhutan's New Prime Minister Says Happiness Isn't Everything". 3 August 2013. Retrieved 23 October 2014. 
  21. ^ "Index of Happiness? Bhutan's New Leader Prefers More Concrete Goals". The New York Times. 5 October 2013. 

Works cited[edit]

External links[edit]