What Is Gross National Happiness?

The Gross National Happiness Commission in Thimphu, Bhutan. Editorial credit: Vladimir Melnik / Shutterstock.com
The Gross National Happiness Commission in Thimphu, Bhutan. Editorial credit: Vladimir Melnik / Shutterstock.com

Gross National Happiness is a philosophy that guides the Bhutanese government. Gross National Happiness (GNH) is a comprehensive approach to development, which values collective happiness as the goal of governance through balancing material and non-material values and it is used in place of Gross National Product (GDP). The Gross National Happiness is expressed in four pillars and nine domains.

History of Gross National Happiness

Gross National Happiness was an idea promoted by King Jigme Singye Wangchuck in the 1970s. The king questioned how Gross Domestic Product (GDP) could measure happiness and prosperity on its own. The king considered happiness to be an indicator of progressive development. An ancient Bhutan legal code stressed that Bhutanese laws had an obligation to promote happiness for all. In an interview in 1972, King Jigme said that Gross National Happiness was more crucial compared to the Gross National Product. However, in recent times, research has shown that wealth alone does not offer happiness. In July 2008, the Bhutanese government enacted a new constitution and instituted Gross National Happiness in the Constitution of Bhutan.

Pillars of Gross National Happiness

Gross National Happiness has four strong pillars namely good governance, environmental conservation and preservation, sustainable socio-economic development, and culture promotion. In good governance, guidelines and procedures developed in Bhutan should portray the values of Gross National Happiness. Social and economic contributions should be valued an economy to thrive. The preservation of the Bhutanese culture is believed to contribute to the happiness of the Bhutanese citizens. The environment is believed to provide stimulus to happiness through the addition of pivotal services such as water and energy, and thus there is a need for the conservation of the environment.

Application of Gross National Happiness

The Gross National Happiness Commission implements Gross National Happiness in Bhutan. The commission’s assignments include creating and implementing Bhutan’s 5-year plan and policies. The GNH Index measures happiness and well-being in Bhutan. The GNH commission determines the policies and implementing projects using a GNH Policy Screening Tool and a GNH Project Screening Tool. The GNH Index is a short survey used by the Bhutanese government to measure national progress. This index is one of the earliest models used to assess the progress of societies. The GNH commission uses the data from the index to compare the happiness in different groups of people and the changes that take place over time.

Spread and Criticism

Around the world, many countries are beginning to embrace the Gross National Happiness. International conferences on Gross National Happiness around the world have helped spread the concept to various parts with many countries joining in on the idea after the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20 in 2012. The Gross National Happiness concept has received some criticism and some critics terming it as a propaganda tool by the Bhutanese government to hide human rights abuses. The Bhutanese and some western promoters of the Gross National Happiness concept have countered this criticism claiming that the concept is a process of development and learning, not an outright endpoint.


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