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 development philosophy as well as an index which is used to measure the collective happiness in a nation. The concept is indigenous to the country of Bhutan, and was enshrined in the country’s 2008 constitution which states that “the State shall strive to promote those conditions that will enable the pursuit of Gross National Happiness.”[1] The term ‘Gross National Happiness’ was inadvertently coined in 1979 during an interview in Bombay Airport when His Majesty said “We do not believe in Gross National Product. Gross National Happiness is more important.”[2]



The term “gross national happiness” was famously coined by the fourth king of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, in the early 1970s.[3]

GNH is a continuously evolving concept, but perhaps its most recognizable analytical features are the four GNH pillars, which are: economic self reliance, environmental conservation, cultural preservation and promotion, and good governance.[4]

GNH is distinguishable by for example valuing collective happiness as the goal of governance, and by emphasizing harmony with nature and traditional values.[5]

Other developments[edit]

The GNH concept has 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 American 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.[6][7]

In 2006, the International Institute of Management published a policy white paper calling for the implementation of GNH philosophy in the US.[8][9]

Two Canadians, Michael and Martha Pennock, played a major role in developing the Bhutanese GNH survey. 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.[10]

In 2010, The Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative OPHI at the University of Oxford in UK, launched the international Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) which has been published in the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Human Development Reports since 2010. Similar to the GNH index, OPHI promotes collection and analysis of data on multiple indicators based on three domains: health, education, and living standards.[11][12]

GNH was later articulated as nine domains, which provides a further level of conceptual analysis for policy making. These are: psychological well-being, health, time use, education, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience, and living standards.[13][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]

In 2011 UN General Assembly Resolution 65/309, titled "Happiness: towards a holistic approach to development". The resolution recognized the pursuit of happiness as a fundamental human goal and invites member states to “pursue the elaboration of additional measures that better capture the importance of the pursuit of happiness and well-being in development with a view to guiding their public policies.”[16]

The former king of Thailand,Bhumibol Adulyadej, was a close friend of King Jigme Singye Wangchuck and conceived the similar philosophy of “Sufficiency Economy.” In 2016, Thailand launched its own GNH center.[17]

In 2016, the government of Dubai established the Ministry of Happiness and referenced GNH as the background for the initiative.[18]

GNH Implementation[edit]

Main article: Bhutan GNH Index

The implementation of a GNH policy can be challenging as it requires considerable institutional support. In Bhutan, the implementation – or mainstreaming – of GNH into political institutions has been a gradual process for several decades but recently accelerated with the introduction of the GNH Index and the GNH Screening Tool.

As part of a lengthy and ongoing process of integrating the GNH philosophy into public policy, the GNH Index was developed by the Centre for Bhutan Studies (CBS) to help measure the progress of Bhutanese society. In 2010, the first nation-wide GNH survey was conducted with a sample size of 8,510 Bhutanese aged 15 and above. The second nation-wide survey was conducted in 2015 and had a sample size of 8,871. After all three rounds of surveys, follow-up interviews and additional data gathering was conducted in order to review and refine the survey. The GNH survey covers all twenty districts (Dzonkhag) and results are reported for varying demographic factors such as gender, age, abode, and occupation. The survey therefore provides a rich dataset to compare the happiness between different groups of citizens, and how this has changed over time.[19]


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 nearly one-fifth of Bhutan's population before ethnic tensions and a campaign of forced expulsion led to over 100,000 refugees fleeing the country.[20]

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."[21]

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. This emphasizes the need for cross-country comparative indices such as the MPI. In 2013 the country’s opposition party won the second-ever parliamentary elections, and the newly-elected Prime Minister, Tshering Tobgay,signaled that his government intended to work on more concrete goals than on promoting the concept of GNH. While maintaining that gross domestic product should not be the end-all of development, he has said that if a government "[spends] a disproportionate amount of time talking about GNH rather than delivering basic services, then it is a distraction."[22]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "The Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan" (PDF). National Council. Royal Government of Bhutan. Retrieved 1 April 2017. 
  2. ^ Dorji, Tashi (15 June 2012). "The story of a king, a poor country, and a rich idea". Business Bhutan. Retrieved 1 April 2017. 
  3. ^ Dorji, Tashi (15 June 2012). "The story of a king, a poor country, and a rich idea". Business Bhutan. Retrieved 1 April 2017. 
  4. ^ Tenth Five-Year Plan: 2008-2013 (PDF). Thimphu, Bhutan: Gross National Happiness Commission - Royal Government of Bhutan, Actual Date of Publishing June, 25, 2009. Retrieved 1 April 2017. 
  5. ^ Ura, Karma; Alkire, Sabina; Zangmo, Tshoki; Wangdi, Karma (May 2012). An Extensive Analysis of GNH Index (PDF). Thimphu, Bhutan: The Centre for Bhutan Studies. Retrieved 1 April 2017. 
  6. ^ "Happiness Institute - Happiness Movement Leaders - Who is Who in Happiness Research". Retrieved 18 July 2015. 
  7. ^ "Article about the background of establishing Ministry of Happiness in Dubai". 
  8. ^ "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. 
  9. ^ "Harvard Kennedy School Report to US Congressman 21st Century GDP: National Indicators for a New Era" (PDF). 
  10. ^ 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. 
  11. ^ "A wealth of data". The Economist. 
  12. ^ Alkire, Sabina; Santos, María Emma (2011). "Acute Multidimensional Poverty: A New Index for Developing Countries". Proceedings of the German Development Economics Conference (3). Retrieved 1 April 2017. 
  13. ^ Ura, Karma (2008). "Understanding the Development Philosophy of Gross National Happiness". Interview with Bhutan Broadcasting Service. 
  14. ^ "Welcome to the CBS's works on Gross National Happiness!". Gross National Happiness. Retrieved 1 April 2017. 
  15. ^ Kramer, Adam. "An unobtrusive behavioral model of "gross national happiness"". Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems: 287–290. Retrieved 1 April 2017. 
  16. ^ UN Happiness Resolution"
  17. ^ "Thailand GNH Center". 
  18. ^ "With New Minister, United Arab Emirates Want to Top the World in Happiness, Too". New York Times. 9 February 2016. 
  19. ^ A Compass Towards a Just and Harmoneous Society: 2015 GNH Survey Report. Thimphu, Bhutan: Centre for Bhutan Studies & GNH Research. 2016. ISBN 978-99936-14-86-9. 
  20. ^ Tan, Vivian. "Refugees from Bhutan poised for new start". UNHCR. Retrieved 1 April 2017. 
  21. ^ McCloskey, Deirdre N. (28 June 2012). "Happyism: The Creepy New Economics of Pleasure". The New Republic: 16–23. 
  22. ^ "Index of Happiness? Bhutan's New Leader Prefers More Concrete Goals". The New York Times. 5 October 2013. 

Works cited[edit]

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