Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index is a multidimensional measure and it is linked with a set of policy and programme screening tools so that it has practical applications. The GNH index is built from data drawn from periodic surveys which are representative by district, gender, age, rural-urban residence, income, etc. Representative sampling allows its results to be decomposed at various sub-national levels, and such disaggregated information can be examined and understood more by organizations and citizens for their uses. In the GNH Index, unlike certain concepts of happiness in current western literature, happiness is itself multidimensional – not measured only by subjective well-being, and not focused narrowly on happiness that ends and begins with oneself and is concerned for and with oneself. The pursuit of happiness is collective though it can be experienced deeply personally. Different people can be happy in spite of their disparate circumstances but the options for trade off must be wide.

GNH Index is meant to orient the people and the nation towards happiness, by primarily improving the conditions of not-yet-happy people. We can break apart GNH Index to see where unhappiness is arising from and for whom. For policy action, GNH Index enables the government and others to increase GNH in two ways. It can either increase percentage of people who are happy or decrease the insufficient conditions of people who are not-yet-happy. In the way the GNH Index is constructed, there is a greater incentive for the government and others to decrease the insufficiencies of not-yet-happy people. This can be done by mitigating the many areas of insufficiencies the not-yet-happy face. Not-yet-happy people in rural Bhutan tend to be those who attain less in education, living standards and balanced use of time. In urban Bhutan, not-yet-happy people are insufficient in non-material domains such as community vitality and culture and psychological well-being. In Thimphu, the capital, for example, the biggest insufficiencies are in community vitality.

GNH Index provides an overview of performances across 9 domains of GNH (psychological wellbeing, time use, community vitality, cultural diversity, ecological resilience, living standard, health, education, good governance). The aggregation method is a version of Alkire Foster method (2007, 2011). The index is aggregated out of 33 clustered (grouped) indicators. Each clustered indicator is further composed of several variables. When unpacked, the 33 clustered indicators have 124 variables, the basic building blocks of GNH Index. Weights attached to variables differ, with lighter weights attached to highly subjective variables. A threshold or sufficiency level is applied to each variable. At the level of domains, all the 9 domains are equally weighted as they are all considered to be equally valid for happiness.

A cut off point is set to be counted as happy. Not all people need to be sufficient in each of 124 variables to be happy. People are diverse in the ways and means they can have fulfilling life. Not all variables need to be present to be happy. People have freedom of choice in which ways they can make life fulfilling, so not all variables have universal applicability. For such reasons cut off was set at 66% of the variables. People can be considered happy when they have sufficiency in 66% of the (weighted) indicators. The GNH Index value for 2010 is 0.737. It shows us that 40.8% of people in Bhutan are extremely happy and the rest are moderately happy. The rest – 59% – are considered moderately happy because they enjoy sufficiency in 57% of the 124 variables, not 66% on average as required by the index to be extremely happy. Cut off does make a difference in the GNH Index. The low score of GNH index is a result of its requirement that a diverse set of conditions and states, represented by 124 variables, must be simultaneously prevalent for a person to be robustly happy. It is a tougher measure because it is not focussed on survival like poverty measure, but rather of flourishing over a wide array of conditions.

The GNH survey in 2010 covered an extraordinarily large sample of 7100 people. One of the questions in the survey was how an individual considers his happiness to be on a scale of 0-10. The results to this question show subjective happiness or subjective wellbeing, and the national average was 6.06 (SD = 1.6) for 2010 suggesting a very good level of happiness in Bhutan. Not only the national average, the distribution of the people over the scale of 0 to 10 is important. If we group the people into three classes according to the level of their scores, 3.87% of the population scored between 0 and 4. We might consider this group to be clearly not-yet-happy people. The bulk of the population 78.79% score between 4 and 7, and 17.3% score between 8 and 10.

Article courtesy of Dasho Karma Ura on

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