March 24, 2014

Taking a Cue from Bhutan: The Gross National Happiness Index.


“If we are brave the whole world will be brave. As in our body, so in the universe—this is how we should feel.” ~ Gandhi

With so many crazy news headlines about how we are pillaging our sacred Earth as a matter of what seems a priority for some, it is easy to lose hope. So today I want to share with you about the magical kingdom of Bhutan. A tiny country in the Himalayas, the Land of the Thunder Dragon has a big vision that is forging another way of relating to Mother Earth.

Bhutan flips the measurement of Gross National Product (GNP) and instead uses Gross National Happiness (GNH) to define success and wealth for its citizens.

The principle, first used in 1972 and developed over the years using empirical research in the fields of happiness and positive psychology, is based on Buddhist spiritual values. It measures quality of life over quantity of production, holistic wellness over money.

It also provides a blueprint and framework for government policy planning. Any policy that becomes a law must first pass a Gross National Happiness review.

Don’t be misled.

Bhutan cares about economics and GNP. But the government operates from the belief that material and spiritual growth must be given equal weight.

They must support and compliment each other. As such, GNH is rooted in four Buddhist values.

  1. Socioeconomic development that is both sustainable and equitable.
  2. Conserving the delicate ecology.
  3. Promoting and preserving culture and heritage
  4. Good governance that encompasses not just economic growth but human development.

In addition to this foundation, the complex instrument used to measure Gross National Happiness (which can take 6-7 hours to administer), looks at eight more general contributors to happiness:  physical/mental/spiritual health, time-balance, community vitality, cultural vitality, education, living standards, good governance, and ecological vitality.

Is it any wonder that Bhutan has been rated by Business Week as the happiest country in Asia and the eighth happiest in the world?

There are three main aspects to Buddhism: religion, psychology, and philosophy. Philosophically speaking, Buddhism understands that everything that “exists” depends on something else for that existence.

We are all connected; we don’t operate in a vacuum.

From this perspective, the only sane approach to government is to strive for balance and a mutual complement between economics and spiritual values.

Natural resources must be protected to provide for the future, human potential must be cultivated, good animal husbandry must be championed, protection—not exploitation—must be standard operating procedure.

There are many things that draw me to Buddhism, not the least of which is its emphasis and ability to help improve everyday life through simple and loving practices.

How can we take a page from Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness index and change our own standard operating procedure? 

Let’s allow ourselves to move through our days slowly and deliberately, making decisions based on blending physical/mental/spiritual health and not solely on outward material success.

Let’s opt for more high quality, low impact in our lives, more community, more generosity, and more, well, happiness!

And as we do, we begin to tip the scales in favor of our children who will be here long after we are gone.


Love elephant and want to go steady?

Sign up for our (curated) daily and weekly newsletters!

Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: courtesy of the author 


Leave a Thoughtful Comment

Read 0 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Lisa Tully  |  Contribution: 2,900