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Commentary
Bhutan's Gross National Happiness

  Lakshmi Parimala H

Bhutan's Gross National Happiness (GNH):
Deeply Happy,
Extremely Happy...


Lakshmi Parimala H

In the news
On 22 May, the Center for Bhutan and Gross National Happiness (GNH) studies published the GNH survey for 2022. It reported that 93.6 per cent of Bhutanese are feeling happy. The Gross National Happiness Index measures overall happiness and well-being in the country using 33 indicators across nine domains. It was adopted by Bhutan in 2008, following its transition to democracy. The GNH has the following four pillars: good governance, sustainable economic development, cultural preservation and environmental conservation. The four pillars above are represented in nine domains and measured by 33 indicators. Individuals are categorized into four groups according to their score: unhappy, narrowly happy, extensively happy, or deeply happy.

Issues at large
First, a 3.3 per cent increase in the GNH index during the past seven years, despite the pandemic. According to the report, the following are the reasons for the above increase: improvements in housing, income, schooling, services, literacy, and positive emotions. The report, however, also has raised some concerns raised relating to the following: deterioration in several indicators such as healthy days, cultural and political participation, mental health, and Driglam Namzha.

Second, the urban-rural divide, questioning the correlation between income and happiness. While the urban population has a greater level of happiness, the rural population shows a more significant number of happy people, with 56.8 per cent in rural compared to 43.2 per cent in urban areas. The report challenged assumptions that the urban environment guaranteed greater happiness and the correlation between income and happiness. The report finds not-so-happy people across all income scales.

Third, the gender factor. While women's GNH is lower than men's, there is a positive trend. The rate of improvement among females has surpassed that of males, indicating growing equality.

Fourth, the GNH vs the World Happiness Report. Despite the GNH report showing 93.6 per cent of happy people, Bhutan is ranked 97 in the World Happiness Report published by the UN. A reason could be the difference in indicators used by the two reports to measure happiness.

In perspective
First, Bhutan has been promoting the importance of happiness and simultaneously GNH as a measure of a country's development rather than GDP. GNH is more comprehensive and considers the environment, human rights, and industrial production. 

Second, Bhutan uses the GNH report in policy-making to identify the areas which need to be addressed, along with the section of the population to which it must be applied. This is significant; the index will remain a number unless reflected upon in the policies and improved. 

Third, the difference between Bhutan's GNH and the World Happiness Report also shows that happiness is relative. Therefore, the indicators considered by each country depend on several factors, especially history and culture. 

About the authors
Lakshmi Parimala H is a Postgraduate Scholars at the Stella Maris College, Chennai. 

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