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Bhutan’s Concept of Gross National Happiness Research Paper

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Updated: Sep 15th, 2020


In addition to considering the role that people play in enhancing a nation’s Gross National Product (GNP), the government of Bhutan identifies its citizens’ happiness as a vital measure of the country’s annual progress. In particular, in 1972, the government, under the reign of King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the 4th king of Bhutan, saw the importance of considering the non-financial element of people’s welfare as an indicator of national prosperity (Givel 107). For this reason, the country adopted the Gross National Happiness (GNH) concept as a crucial mechanism for assessing the status of the population’s social interests. The plan of gauging national progress has attracted the attention of bodies such as the United Nations (UN) because of its positive impact on the society’s productivity. Consequently, the idea of GNH underlines the need for measuring growth and development at the national level by considering the impact that people’s healthy and fulfilling lives can have on a particular country’s overall productivity. Therefore, it is crucial to examine the implication of the concept of GNH for the government of Bhutan. It is also imperative to find out how it is calculated. As argued in this paper, although happiness is a personal issue, Bhutan has taken the responsibility of creating an atmosphere that enables its citizens to carry out their daily businesses without interruptions that may interfere with their satisfaction levels.

The GNH Concept in Bhutan

According to Schroeder and Schroeder, the ever-changing competition has led to the introduction of diverse strategies that aim at boosting development among global economies (3521). Countries have been relying on conventional approaches that emphasize the financial growth paradigm at the expense of other factors, which determine the extent and quality of development in a country. Such conservative methods ignore the input of multi-faceted economic growth mechanisms, which acknowledge a nation’s citizens as key elements that trigger or hinder financial progress based on their level of contentment with the prevailing environment (Schroeder 3). The concept of GNH in Bhutan emphasizes the need for gauging the progress of this country from the perspective of its population’s degree of happiness.

The country regards GNH as more valuable compared to its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) because the former is founded on the awareness that sustainable economic progress needs to adopt a comprehensive approach that captures the link between a nation’s productivity and its population’s extent of contentment. As such, Bhutan’s administration prioritized the establishment of social and financial guiding principles that sought to bring about contentment among its people. According to Sithey et al., the government of Bhutan has laid down vital development-based incentives that enhance its citizens’ contentment and, consequently, their dedication to taking part in nation building (514). The country’s establishment of the GNH framework was based on the need for having a measurement plan that could be helpful during policymaking processes.

As Paul asserts, although the exploration of the tool is a work-in-progress, Bhutan has so far created a culture whereby investigations are carried out after every 48 months involving almost 10000 participants with the goal of gauging the country’s level of advancement with respect to some specified constraints. In particular, the tool was meant to influence the implementation of enticements for not only the state but also other non-governmental agencies and businesses, all of which play a key role in influencing people’s happiness levels. The framework has been crucial towards fostering the realization of national prosperity. For the GNH system to work in Bhutan, it focuses on four main pillars that guide policy-making processes in the country. In particular, according to Gupta and Agrawal, the framework is founded on the need for good governance, environmental conservation, preservation and promotion of culture, and sustainable socio-economic development (1919).

Therefore, social and economic policies established in Bhutan seek to facilitate the realization of the above four major areas of GNH. For instance, the element of good governance ensures that the Bhutanese constitutional monarchy establishes structures that facilitate the actualization of joy among people in the country. Additionally, according to Gupta and Agrawal, policies on environmental conservation boost the sustainability of the people’s surroundings for generations to enjoy amid the onset of global warming (1920). Furthermore, Bhutan boasts of rich culture and identity. As a result, the country’s GNH tool has influenced the establishment of policies that promote culture heritage to create a sense of happiness among its people (Metz 220). Moreover, the GNH concept identifies policies that foster socio-economic development as essential towards enhancing people’s prosperity.

The Calculation of GNH in Bhutan

The measurement of GNH in the Bhutanese society follows a unique process that rejects traditionally established economic elements of progress. Conversely, in the process of estimating GNH, the selected country considers nine important domains, including high-quality governance, psychological health, cultural diversity and flexibility, ecological multiplicity and pliability, education, wellbeing, community liveliness, time utilization, and living standards (Givel 105). Bhutan takes into account qualitative features of social development in its assessment of the Gross National Happiness tool. Therefore, it is imperative to describe the approaches that it has adopted to calculate GNH.

According to Gupta and Agrawal, Bhutan applies the GNH index in calculating the development or progress of the society (1920). In particular, the GNH indicator is comprised of the nine domains mentioned earlier. In calculating GNH, the appropriate officials administer roughly 100-minute long interviews that seek to gauge respondents contentment levels based on each domain of the index (Sithey et al. 514). In this process, every sphere of influence is treated equally since it complements the rest towards bolstering the realization of prosperity. In evaluating the degree of happiness attained in each field, the GNH indicator integrates at least 33 variables (Schroeder 3). Distinctive domains in the GNH are assigned to at least four variables.

For instance, assessing the extent of happened gained from the education realm requires the interviewer to ask questions about schooling approaches, literacy levels, knowledge in particular topics, and values acquired in the educational environment (Beaglehole and Bonita 848). Additionally, assessing the population’s living standards covers variables, including housing, assets, and household income. Furthermore, gauging the psychological wellbeing of citizens in the country requires them to respond to questions that cover areas such as spirituality, negative and positive emotions, and satisfaction. In this respect, the variables capturing these diverse domains play a fundamental role in facilitating the measurement of GNH that, in turn, reveals areas that the country can transform to meet its population’s happiness demands and expectations (Schroeder 3). Nonetheless, the 33 variables used in the assessment of the various domains in the GNH index are disproportionate, meaning that the level of citizens’ contentment and, consequently, productivity in the country is based on the combined findings.

The specified domains have varying weights because of the degree of validity and reliability that each of them offers to the results attained after measurement. In this regard, the computation of GNH upholds the essence of observing objectivity over subjectivity to facilitate the realization of convincing and consistent results (Givel 105). This observation demonstrates that factual indicators have a greater weight compared to personal indices when applying variables that capture the nine domains of the GNH framework. In particular, the calculation of GNH incorporates sufficiency targets because the averages obtained in the process cannot quantify happiness. For example, considerably low literacy levels cannot be countered by a significantly high household income level. In this concern, sufficiency targets ensure that each question covering a particular indicator prompts relevant answers from interviewees. According to Givel, the sufficiency level for monthly earnings in the household revenue indicator in the living standards domain is 23.127 Ngultrum, which is equivalent to around €325 (105). In this respect, such targets facilitate the realization of pertinent answers, which enhance the correct assessment of the level of happiness among the people of Bhutan.

Sufficiency targets help in determining thresholds that enhance the gauging of happiness at various levels. Notably, such sufficiency thresholds evaluate happiness in terms of excess, deep, and narrow extents in relation to the 33 indicators. From the computed GNH results, it becomes possible to determine whether a country is contented or is struggling to implement development agendas that do not contribute towards enhancing its people’s happiness. In this respect, the Bhutanese population is considered to be deeply happy when GNH results indicate a range of 77%-100% sufficiency level after weighing the 33 indicators. A finding of 66%-76% denotes an extensively happy Bhutanese society. A narrowly contented population is considered to score a sufficiency level of (50-65)% whereas a 0-49 percent GNH outcome represents an unhappy society (Beaglehole and Bonita 849). Therefore, such sufficiency thresholds facilitate the creation of an actual picture of Bhutan’s level of prosperity. Consequently, according to Schroeder, the government stands a better chance of using the results to influence policy changes in all sectors of the economy, especially those that seem to be recording low citizens’ contentment levels (3). Moreover, it is important to note that the sufficiency figures rely considerably on the objectiveness of the administered interviews (Sithey et al. 514). Therefore, it is crucial to avoid instances of subjectivity when collecting data used for measuring GNH in Bhutan.


People in a particular country significantly determine its level of development. Similar to the findings in many organizations, satisfaction and productivity go hand in hand. Hence, a nation whose population is not happy with the prevailing economic, education, religious, political, or psychological environment may be less productive when it comes to implementing development agendas. The GNH concept applied in Bhutan considers happiness as an important indicator of development or progress. The social pointer of prosperity is highly valued in this country compared to other economic indicators such as the GDP. The measurement of GNH takes into account nine domains that are evaluated using 33 variables. It is important to observe objectivity in the collection of data through interviews to facilitate the realization of reliable and valid results when measuring GNH. The accurate measure of GNH ensures that the government and concerned parties acquire a clear picture of the population’s satisfaction, happiness, well-being, and the quality of life. As a result, this tool acts as a dependable and a suitable depicter of national growth and prosperity. Results obtained using this tool influence policy improvements geared towards attaining a happy and, consequently, a productive population.

Works Cited

Beaglehole, Robert, and Ruth Bonita. “Development with Values: Lessons from Bhutan.” The Lancet, vol. 385, no. 9971, 2015, pp. 848-849.

Givel, Michael. “Gross National Happiness in Bhutan: Political Institutions and Implementation.” Asian Affairs, vol. 46, no. 1, 2015, pp. 102-117.

Gupta, Kanupriya, and Rajat Agrawal. “Sustainable Development and Spirituality: A Critical Analysis of GNH Index.” International Journal of Social Economics, vol. 44, no. 12, 2017, pp.1919-1939.

Metz, Thaddeus. “Gross National Happiness: A Philosophical Appraisal.” Ethics and Social Welfare, vol. 8, no. 3, 2014, pp. 218-232.

Paul, Aniek. Live Mint, 2017. Web.

Schroeder, Kent. Politics of Gross National Happiness: Governance and Development in Bhutan. Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.

Schroeder, Randy, and Kent Schroeder. “Happy Environments: Bhutan, Interdependence and the West.” Sustainability, vol. 6, no. 6, 2014, pp. 3521-3533.

Sithey, Gyambo, et al. “Gross National Happiness and Health: Lessons from Bhutan.” Bulletin of the World Health Organization, vol. 93, no. 8, 2015, p. 514.

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