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Gross National Happiness of Bhutan

Updated on March 24, 2012

In 1972, the Fourth King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, coined the term "Gross National Happiness" (GNH) as an indicator of the well-being of its people. He felt that this measure to be more important than the "Gross Domestic Product" (GDP) that other countries traditionally uses to measure wealth.

This is consistent with the Bhutanese people's grounding in Buddhist ideals. About three quarters of the Bhutanese people follow Buddhism with the remainder mostly following Hinduism.

The background of this idea dates back to their Legal code of 1627 which says ...

"if the government cannot create happiness for its people, then there is no purpose for government to exist."[1]

The 2008 Constitution of Bhutan states that ...

"The State shall strive to promote those conditions that will enable the pursuit of Gross National Happiness".[1]

In 2009, the Prime Minister of Bhutan says that ...

"We know that true abiding happiness cannot exist while other suffer, and comes only from serving others, living in harmony with nature, and realizing our innate wisdom and the true and brilliant nature of our own minds."[1]

Nine Domains of Gross National Happiness

The Gross National Happiness index has a "sufficiency thresholds" and a "happiness threshold". It determines what percentage of the people surpass these two thresholds in the various indicators. In the 2010 survey, the Gross National Happiness index comprise of 33 indicators across the following nine domains:

Click for larger view
Click for larger view | Source
  • psychological well-being
  • health
  • education
  • time use
  • cultural diversity and resilience
  • good governance
  • community vitality
  • ecological diversity and resilience
  • and living standards

What is happy?

Based on the Gross National Happiness model, a person is happy if he or she achieves the sufficiency threshold in 6 or more of the 9 domains. With this definition of "happy" in the 2010 survey, 40.8% of Bhutanese are "happy".

The Gross National Happiness index for Bhutan in 2010 is 0.743.

The GNH is computed by ...

GNH = 1 - (Hn x An)

where Hn = percentage of not-yet-happy people

and An = percentage of domains in which not-yet-happy people lack sufficiency.

More About Bhutan

Bhutan is a little country in the Himalaya's with a population of around 700 thousand (2011 estimates). Its total GDP (gross domestic product adjusted for purchasing power parity) is only $3.9 billion. In comparison, the GDP (adjusted for purchasing power parity) of the United States is $15 trillion.

But perhaps Bhutan got the right idea that it is not GDP that matters, but GNH that matters. Why are not more countries measuring gross national happiness?

Due to its unique measure of gross national happiness, this little country has made the spotlight in many media articles including ...

To learn more about the people of Bhutan, visit by Jonathan Harris. He interviewed the people of Bhutan (which you can listen to) and asked them to rate their happiness on a scale of 1 to 10. He gave the person one balloon for each point of happiness.


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