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Gross National Happiness

You are currently viewing a revision titled "Gross National Happiness", saved on March 31, 2014 at 7:03 am by Sean Lynn
Gross National Happiness



Gross National Happiness was first coined in the 1970s by King Jigme Singye Wangchuck of Bhutan ( Its purpose implies that sustainable development should give equal importance to holistic measures of economic progress and the non economic aspects of human livelihood. The basic need of healthy living in human life extends past the physical boundaries. This logic is used in the participation in political decision making processes to measure progress towards satisfying basic human needs.

Context within NORA

GNH directly refers to participation in collective and economic decision making processes through creating a system of measuring Happiness rather than product in a 9 indicator framework. This collective participation leads to efforts of sustainability in areas of needs, organizational forms, and resources.

These 9 indicators that are measured are Psychological Well-Being, Health, Education, Cultural Diversity and Resilience, Good Governance, Community Vitality, Ecological diversity and Resilience, Living Standards, and Time Use. These are then measured under sub-indicators that try to assess all aspects of each indicator or domain. 


The GNH index strives to measure and account for basic human needs in various ways. The  indicators that are measured are broken down into aspect of human needs such as health. 

GNH emphasizes Health access and mental health as 2 separate indicators in the GNH index. Physical as well as Mental health are measured on separate but fluid scales (excel sheet)

Health needs are assessed through a national survey/index where health is measured through measures of self reported physical and mental health. If these questions are measured at above 66% overall, then the health measurement of that specific area is considered adequate or happy. The survey also inquires about disabilities, mental and physical, to assess where health centers or clinics would be beneficial in the effort to create a sustainable healthy lifestyle. 

The needs for participation in collective political and economic decision making, as well as opportunities to learn are measured under the indicators of Good Governance and Education. The government of Bhutan is assessed by the people through measures such as job creation, fighting corruption, reducing wealth disparity, and providing education. These are all measures of the government's performance. The government is also measured on services they provide to the people such as health, electricity, quality of water and waste disposal. The government of Bhutan is incentivized to follow the GNH index to help create a happier and sustainable life for its people.

Opportunities to learn is a need that the GNH has helped creating abundance in multiple areas. Education is weighed as an equal indicator for happiness within the GNH Index. It is measured on levels of general knowledge, values, and access to schooling. Literacy in Bhutan, since the instillation of GNH, has nearly doubled (source). Also nearly 99 percent of Bhutanese children are enrolled in schools. 

Time use is measured within the GNH index as a need for the contemplative and relaxing time used to think and enjoy life. The GNH measures time use on a basis of working hours vs. sleeping hours. Time use is important as people need to be able to freely spend time thinking and enjoying life to be considered or measured as happy. Eight hours are allotted for work and sleep. 

Organizational Forms

The GNH helps with sustaining the needs and resources of the people of Bhutan. The organizational forms of community solidarity and natural resource management are somewhat covered within the GNH index. The GNH index is instilled by the government, so businesses and communities are encouraged to follow the program for the benefit of everyone. Community vitality is measured within the GNH index that tries to quantify how much a person trusts their neighbors, or how one's sense of belonging within their community is. 

Ecological diversity and resilience is measured within the GNH index as a way to reduce pollution within the lives of the Bhutanese people. The citizens rate their environmental "cleanliness" through different measure of air, water, and noise pollution in rural and urban environments. 


Certain resources are measured within the 9 domains' sub indicators that strive to create clean and sustainable supplies for the Bhutanese. Air quality is assessed within the GNH index through questions asking whether or not the air pollution is an issue in a specific area (Urban and Rural). Water quality is measured along similar questions. The government then assess which areas need help with resource management if measurements are below the 66% passing standard.

Land resources that are assessed revolve around the GNH index's domain of Ecological diversity and resilience. Most Bhutanese people rely on subsistence farming in rural areas which cause issues in assessing appropriate amounts of land for farmers. Most land in Bhutan is forest at nearly 72 percent. The nature preservation laws are incredibly strict due to the Buddhist undertones of land aesthetics. Many forests are preserved and owned by the government which has set a very high standard with regards to preservation that states 60 percent of the forests will never be touched by commercial loggers. Having large forested areas can create issues in transportation and assessment of such resources in rural areas especially. Soil erosion, lanslides, and floods are of main concern in land preservation

Animals, domesticated or wild, are mostly used in rural areas that are assessed through levels of diversity and population. Domesticated animals are mainly used for labor within the farming communities in the highlands, but animal life is also assessed in the wild. Surveyors include questions in the GNH index that assess how much wildlife interferes with a rural worker's crop or livestock. Animals are seen as a large part of a healthy environment in Bhutan as a labor force, and maintenance of a large, healthy ecosystem. 

Some intangible resources such as values and knowledge are placed within certain sub-indicators revolving around values and spirituality. Values of the people are assessed in the domain of Cultural diversity and resilience through a code of ethics known as Driglam Namzha. This is also connected in the spiritual sense to a largely Buddhist community that strives to preserve tradition within culture in an ever modernizing world. 

Understanding current patterns of abundance and scarcity

Understanding current patterns in abundance and scarcity of GNH involve the practices of implementation of the 9 indicators of Happiness onto government controlled entities being environmental/cultural preservation, education, health care, and the participation of collective ideas. All of these factors play a large role in Bhutanese society in creating a sustainable GNH level but contain their shares of strengths and weaknesses. 


​The GNH index was instilled in the 1970s as an alternative way to measure economic development in a holistic manner. This new approach to economic development is rooted within the Buddhist culture that defines 'happiness' as something broader than western definition. This approach measures 'progress' on a scale of human well-being with the belief that this index of happiness is a better measure than a monetary value, such as GDP. In this type of culture money cannot define happiness, so this measure of economic progress could be beneficial to a largely traditional society that is attempting to modernize with the world. While income is assessed within the Living Standards domain, self reported, or subjective, answers in the index are weighted lower than objective answers, generating more attention towards basic human needs. The purpose of GNH as a new measure of economic development is to create a readily accessible measure towards the well-being of its people, as well as informing government policymakers as to what needs attention. 

Basic Approach

The GNH measures 9 domains, that are equally weighted, listed as Psychological Well-Being, Health, Education, Good Governance, Community Vitality, Ecological Diversity and Resilience, Cultural diversity and Resilience, Living Standards, and Time Use. These 9 indicators are then broken down into 33 sub indicators which are measured objectively, and subjectively through a national survey. Objective answers are weighted higher than subjective ones mainly on the basis that they are measured on scales. Subjective answers are seen as important, but not on the same level. The data collected then is analyzed based on what type of question was asked, and what type of answer was given. 

In 2010 Bhutan released a national survey to measure it's country's progress/happiness that measured all 9 indicators in each province. The data collected remains slim, but 7,142 respondents completed the survey. This is a small portion of the entire country, but the proves helpful in many ways. Quantitative data is collected on fields ranging from household income, to whether or not one owns a color television. The data is helpful for the implementation of government policies and services where it is needed. The survey is attached in the 



Participation in collective economic and political decision making play a large role in the implementation of each of the 9 indicators of happiness. Without this collective participation democracy can not ensue. Collaborative efforts involving the needs of the people should take precedence over product in the context of GNH. The scarcity of this participation lies within the reception of western cultures and economic policies. Another lies within the abundance of policies ensuring the preservation of their own culture extending to religion and even environmental friendliness. The abundance of environmental policies show us what lies at the heart of GNH.


Environmental preservation refers to the GNH policies that keep Bhutan's forests at a thriving 73 percent regarding wooded areas. Scarcity of environmental preservation falls under the fact that the Bhutanese government struggles to give farmers and the lower classes the necessary land to live off. Conservative deforestation practices, such as narrow commercial logging,are used to conserve the thriving natural ecosystems that have become ingrained into the cultural presence of the Bhutanese people as opposed to commercial farming or logging. Only 4 percent of previously forested land has been commercially logged (Zurick)

Cultural preservation seeks to prevent cultural erosion through keeping traditional Bhutanese cultural history into education. Cultural scarcity is not the issue as far as learning Bhutanese culture goes. One of the biggest problems for GNH is the preservation of Bhutan culture while simultaneously redefining the definition of culture to extend to a more accepting viewpoint of the broad definition of culture. Interestingly enough the scarcity in cultural preservation could be seen as overlooked when Bhutan exiled nearly one-hundred thousand of its citizens with Nepalese descent creating a scarce amount of cultural preservation for non Bhutanese citizens, though an abundance of the preservation of Bhutanese society.


Education Brings a new perspective to the participation of collective economic decision making. Education policies seem to create abundance in knowledge of the Bhutan environment as well as interest in education. Nearly 100 percent of children in Bhutan receive some form of education (Miller).  Education is key to learning how to implement strategies of abundance while avoiding scarcity in collective decision making in the context of GNH. Education on health care practices are scarce in rural areas due to the lack of medical training facilities in outlying communities. Scarce education of health or any indicator of happiness can lead to destructive behaviors hurting areas of rural or underdeveloped inhabitance.


Physical and mental health are two key components in GNH calculations. Abundance of availability of health care is at an all time high in Bhutan. Over ninety percent of the population have some sort of access to basic health needs. Scarcity of health care lies within the small outlying clinics that support rural communities with little mobility. The technology is outdated compared to national hospitals which does not help the fact these clinics are understaffed. Adverse issues in rural areas also create scarcity in the health care department. Rural communities in Bhutan suffer from extreme poverty leading to mental health issues such as alcoholism. This creates challenges in the way Bhutan improves upon GNH in areas that need it due to lack of transportation and data on rural communities. 



Links and Stories



CHRIST, C. (2012). Happy Talk in Bhutan. National Geographic Traveler, 29(6), 34


Glover, S., Dema, R., Yangzon, P., Sonam, K., & Gleghorn, C. (2006). A review of health and access to health information in Bhutan. Health Information & Libraries Journal, 23(4), 290-293. doi:10.1111/j.1471-1842.2006.00664.x


Kelly, Annie, and S. G. Subbuswamy. "Gross National Happiness in Bhutan: The Big Idea from a Tiny State That Could Change the World." The Observer. Guardian News and Media, 02 Dec. 2012. Web. 04 Mar. 2014. 

Miller, J. P. (2010). Educating for Gross National Happiness. Encounter, 23(1), 52-54

Priesner, Stefan. "Gross National Happiness: Bhutan's Vision of Development and its Challenges." (1999): 24-52.

Tashi, K. P., Prakke, D., & Chettri, S. (1999). Gross National Happiness: Concepts for the Debate.

Zurick, D. (2006). GROSS NATIONAL HAPPINESS AND ENVIRONMENTAL STATUS IN BHUTAN. Geographical Review,96(4), 657-681



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