The Pursuit of Happiness

The Case For Bhutan

By Tshoki Zangmo

We view Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as the standard measure for progress and applaud countries that achieve higher GDP, often making it the ultimate ideology governing societal attitude and behavior. However, for Bhutan a unique development path has been laid out. The Fourth King, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, initiated this path. He observed that countries often destroy ecology and hasten deterioration of their culture for GDP growth. He had increasing doubts about the survival of life on the planet and contemplated an alternative development path.

In the 1970s, His Majesty conceptualized Gross National Happiness (GNH), an approach towards understanding the holistic nature of progress. The concept represents a set of values promoting happy societies as the ultimate goal of government. The approach attempts to achieve both material and spiritual well-being of citizens. As such, the concept has enabled Bhutan to develop sound policies that not only aim at improving physical standards of living but also good conditions in ecology, along with socio-cultural aspects. His Majesty has provided further incentives to stimulate the growth of GNH conditions in our country.

To measure a holistic range of GNH values, Bhutan embraced a framework that classifies the concept into nine domains. These encompass a range of indicators of both qualitative and quantitative nature. They cover aspects ranging from spiritual fulfillment to community relations to income; they constitute psychological well-being, health, education, time use, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience, and living standards. The domains strive to characterize vital well-being components of the Bhutanese people. The concept basically functions under the assumption that fulfilling these components will enable people to improve their lives.

The domains are briefly explained in the diagram.

Psychological Well Being:
This domain attempts to understand and evaluate the quality of people’s lives. It reflects an outcome of life circumstances related to societal

This domain comprises states and conditions of the human body and mind and thereby attempts to characterize health by including both physical and mental aspects. It incorporates individually reported physical and mental health status and health-risk behaviors.

This domain looks into the family and community resources that influence education. It assesses different types of knowledge and skills that people have acquired in the course of their lives, such as history, culture, civics, ecology and indigenous knowledge, as well as skills that are mostly acquired informally.

Time Use:
This domain attempts to analyze the nature of time spent within a 24-hour period and emphasizes the importance of one’s work-life balance.

Cultural Diversity and Resilience:
The culture domain looks at the diversity and strength of cultural traditions.

Community Vitality:
This domain focuses on the strengths and weaknesses of relationships and interaction within communities.

Good Governance:
This domain evaluates how people perceive various governmental functions in terms of efficacy, honesty and quality.

From a GNH point of view, existing indicators remain limited in important aspects such as eco-friendly behavior patterns. This domain includes indicators that measure people’s evaluations of the environmental conditions of their neighborhood.

Living Standards:
This refers to the level of material comfort as measured by conditions of financial security, housing and asset ownership. This domain reviews the financial health of the population as measured by the quantity of income, and analyzes levels of poverty and income inequalities within the country.

A single-number GNH Index is constructed using the indicators. The 2015 GNH Index was 0.756, improving on the 2010 value of 0.743. The index methodology and detailed findings can be found on the GNH official website:

The detailed domain framework succeeds in drawing and deriving policy and operational implications. It is fundamentally systemic in nature, meaning that each domain affects all the others and is affected by each in return. It reflects the interdependent nature of reality itself and has far-reaching implications for policy and for any competent attempt at strategy for change.

The domains and indicators serve as an analytical evaluation tool to help track progress in GNH terms. The indicators allow situations to be better assessed and help decision makers become better informed so they can implement appropriate policies and programs. The indicators will also be used as a democratic tool for engaging citizens and communities in having informed discussions about shared goals and priorities.

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