Gross National Happiness or Gross Domestic Product

Gross National Happiness or Gross Domestic Product Source: Himalayan News Chronicle

Nestled in the idyllic Himalayas and economic aspects of wellbeing. It was clear to Bhutan norm of using GDP alone as a measure of societal sandwiched between China and India to the south, is the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan. It has an area of around 38 thousand sqk anda population of about nine lakhs. But this tiny kingdom has adopted a unique development philosophy since the seventies. In 1972, the king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, first announced the visionary statement that Gross National Happiness (GNH) is more important than Gross Domestic
Product (GDP).

Basically, GNH also called Gross Domestic Happiness (GDH),is a philosophy that guides the government of Bhutan. It includes an index which is used to measure the collective happiness and well-being of a population. The concept   implies that sustainable development should take a holistic approach towards notions of progress and give equal importance to non-that in the pursuit of material comfort, too many countries had lost their cultural identity, their spirituality,and had upset the ecological balance through environmental degradation, and that from a Buddhist viewpoint, material wealth had resulted in widespread spiritual poverty.

GNH is not just about the concept of happiness. It is aguiding principle for change, and it sets the quality of aspirations for development or progress as conceived deep in the folds of  the  Himalayas, in a kingdom that has been shrouded in mystery for centuries. GNH is  a  reasoned and pragmatic attempt to find a wholesome and stable course for change in today’s increasingly turbulent world. For the people of Bhutan, it is a Buddhist-inspired path to a nation’s growth by ensuring individual and collective happiness. GNH is “development guided by human values”.

According to the Bhutanese government, the four pillars of GNH are- sustainable and equitable socio-economic development; environmental conservation; preservation and promotion of culture; and good governance. The nine domains of GNH are psychological well-being, health, time use, education, cultural diversity and resilience,good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience, and living standards. Each domain is composed of subjective (survey- based) and objective indicators. The domains weigh equally but the indicators within each domain differ by weight.

But at the same time, GNH does not challenge the concept of GDP, the traditionally accepted measure of societal happiness. It merely questions the prevailing progress, and it articulates an understanding of development that incorporates multiple and interrelated social, political, economic, cultural, and environmental dimensions. GDP is increasingly subject to criticism as a measure, because of its primary focus on wealth creation.

Experiences from developed countries have indicated  that too much emphasis on GDP has failed to bring universal happiness among their citizens.Increasingly, scholars from a wide range of disciplines believe that the traditional economic approach to development has failed to adequately measure the progress of a nation. But this has resulted in diminished happiness and well- being and that a new, holistic development paradigm is needed that would overcome the inadequacies of  GDP.

Too much emphasis on GDP has heightened human greed, which has resulted in unsustainable growth with little or no regard for the needs of the future generations.This is why Bhutan’s GNH approach to development is increasingly considered as an alternative approach to progress. Given that one of the foremost aspirations of humans is to lead a happy life, happiness should be one measure of social  progress (World Happiness Report,  2012).  GNH does not discard economic development, as economic vision is critical — but happiness must take precedence over economic prosperity as a national aspiration; GNH is not against change, but propounds control of change at a manageable pace and with the right priorities.

The body charged with implementing GNH in Bhutan is the Gross National Happiness Commission headed by the Prime Minister. Its tasks include conceiving and implementing the nation’s 5-year plan and promulgating policies.The GNH Index is used to measure the happiness and well- being of Bhutan’s population. A GNH Policy Screening Tool and a GNH Project Screening Tool is used by the GNH commission to determine whether to pass policies or implement projects. The GNH Screening tools are used by the Bhutanese GNH Commission for anticipating the  impact of  policy  initiatives upon the levels of  GNH in  Bhutan.  The  first GNH surveys  consisted of long questionnaires that polled the citizens about living conditions and religious behaviour. The Bhutan GNH Index was developed by the Centre for Bhutan Studies with the help of Oxford University researchers to help measure the progress of Bhutanese society.

But like all other formula the GNH is not free from serious criticism. It  has been described as a propaganda tool used by the Bhutanese government to distract from ethnic cleansing and human rights abuses it has committed. The Bhutanese government practiced massive ethnic cleansing of the non-Buddhist population of ethnic Nepalese of Hindu faith in the name of GNH cultural preservation as per NGO Human Rights Watch which documented the events. The Government of Bhutan should be known not for “Gross National  Happiness but for Gross National Hypocrisy,” it frowned. Most of its people live in grinding poverty. Other criticism of GNH cites “increasing  levels of political corruption, the rapid spread of diseases such as AIDS and tuberculosis, gang violence, abuses against women and ethnic minorities, shortages in food/medicine, and economic woes. Because Bhutan is a closed society many such things do not come out.

But despite all these, in 2011, The UN General Assembly passed resolution, “Happiness:  towards a holistic approach to development”, urging member nations to follow the example of Bhutan and measure happiness and well-being and calling happiness a “fundamental human goal.” The data is used to compare happiness among different groups of citizens, and changes over time. In Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, a shortened version of Bhutan’s GNH survey was used by the local government, local foundations and governmental agencies  under the leadership of Martha and Michael Pennock to assess the population of Victoria.

The World Happiness  Report is a publication that contains articles and rankings of national happiness, based on respondent  ratings of their own lives, which  the  report also correlates with various (quality of) life factors. As of March 2022, Finland had been ranked the happiest country in the world five times in a row. Ironically Bhutan used to be among the lowest ranking in the index despite its GNP and for the current year no survey had taken place presumably because of lockdown even after pandemic was over. The report is a  publication  of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, a UN global  initiative of  the  United Nations. The report primarily uses data from the Gallup World Poll.