Gross National Happiness

Edit Article

Gross National Happiness (GNH) is a global indicator of progress, which measures both sustainable economy and social development, while protecting the environment and culture.


GNH was born from the realization that the existing development paradigm of the 1970’s, measuring solely the accelerations and decelerations GNP (or GDP), did not mean increasing/decreasing happiness between countries. It demonstrated the notion that money doesn’t equal happiness, and that material progress was not the most important contributor to well being. The concept was realized in Bhutan, by the former king who was known for challenging the conventional, materialistic notions of humankind.

GNH it is based on four pillars and 9 dimensions. The four pillars decribe the promotion of sustainable development, the preservation and promotion of cultural values, the conservation of the natural environment, and the establishment of good governance. The 9 dimensions are as follows[1]:

  1. Education
  2. Psychological well being
  3. Health
  4. Time-use
  5. Cultural diversity and resilience
  6. Good governance
  7. Community vitality
  8. Ecological diversity and resilience
  9. Living standard

[1] OECD (2011). “The Gross National Happiness Index of Bhutan”


What Gross National Happiness is not


GNH is created after the need of going beyond GDP, Gross Domestic Product, which is based only solely on economic inputs and outputs, and fails to demonstrate the distribution of national averages amongst its citizens. When disaggregated data isn’t referenced, those groups among the national averages who fall below the poverty line don’t benefit from the policies based on GDP averages.

GNH is not a quantitative measure and has been criticized that its subjective nature makes it difficult to suit a political agenda. However measures have been taken to normalize subjective answers through other indexes such as the Human Development Index, Happy Planet Index, and the OECD’s Better Life Initiative.


World Map of Happiness.png


In 1972, the King of Bhutan, with the support of the United Nations Development Program, put GNH into practice. In 1999, the Centre for Bhutan Studies was created, an independent research institute for studying and developing GNH. In 2008, a new Constitution, was adopted by their democratic Parliament.

In 2006, Adrian White, a psychologist from the University of Leicester, published the World Map of HappinessBhutan ranked 8th, while USA was 23rd. Other large countries with low ranks included: China 82nd, India 125th, Russia 167th. Centre

How Gross National Happiness works

The survey in Bhutan

The first survey was conducted in late 2007 in Bhutan where 950 people across Bhutan were asked 180 questions grouped into the nine dimensions mentioned above:

  1. Psychological well-being: Assessed the degree of satisfaction and optimism in individual life. The indicators analyzed self-esteem, sense of competence, stress, spiritual activities, and the prevalence of positive and negative emotions.
  2. Health: Measured the effectiveness of health policies, with criteria such as self-rated health, disability, patterns of risk behavior, exercise, sleep, nutrition, etc.
  3. Use of time: The use of time is one of the most significant factors in quality of life, especially time for recreation and socializing with family and friends. A balanced management of time was evaluated, including time spent in traffic jams, at work, in educational activities, etc.
  4. Community vitality: Focused on relationships and interactions in communities. Examined the level of confidence, the sense of belonging, the vitality of affectionate relationships, safety at home and in the community, and the practice of giving and volunteering.
  5. Education: Took into account several factors such as participation in formal and informal education, development of skills and capabilities, involvement in children’s education, values education, environmental education, etc.
  6. Culture: Evaluated local traditions, festivals, core values, participation in cultural events, opportunities to develop artistic skills, and discrimination due to religion, race or gender.
  7. Environment: Measured the perception of citizens about the quality of their water, air, soil, forest cover, biodiversity, etc. The indicators included access to green areas, system of waste management, etc.
  8. Governance: Assessed how the population views the government, the media, the judiciary, the electoral system, and the police, in terms of responsibility, honesty and transparency. It also measured involvement of citizens in community decisions and political processes.
  9. Standard of living: Evaluated individual and family income, financial security, the level of debt, employment security, the quality of housing, etc.

Some of the questions were:

  • Would you define your life as: a) very stressed, b) somewhat stressed, c) not stressed, d) I don’t know
  • Have you lost your sleep due to your concerns?
  • During the last year, have you perceived changes in Bhutan architectonic style new buildings?

The normalized results revealed areas where policy was needed and action should be taken.

Gross National Wellness (GNH)

The International Institute of Management proposed that GNH be changed to Gross National Wellness (GNW), the 2nd generation GNH. 7 development areas where to establish an index on average per capita:

  1. Economic Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of economic metrics such as consumer debt, average income to consumer price index ratio and income distribution
  2. Environmental Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of environmental metrics such as pollution, noise and traffic
  3. Physical Wellness: Indicated via statistical measurement of physical health metrics such as severe illnesses, overweight, etc.
  4. Mental Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of mental health metrics such as usage of antidepressants and rise or decline of psychotherapy patients
  5. Workplace Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of labor metrics such as jobless claims, job change, workplace complaints and lawsuits
  6. Social Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of social metrics such as discrimination, safety ,divorce rates, complaints of domestic conflicts and family lawsuits, public lawsuits, crime rates
  7. Political Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of political metrics such as the quality of local democracy, individual freedom, and foreign conflicts.

In January 2008, the French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced his dedication in measuring national happiness. He creation of the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, which is chaired by the Nobel Prize in Economics winner, Joseph E. Stiglitz. Since then, countries have begun increasing the amount resources need to measure national happiness; increasing global well being has been named one of the 169 targets in the 2030 Agenda, or UN Sustainable Development Goals. Additionally, private sectors have found the incentive to measure and record data on national happiness; Facebook has published an application on Gross National Happiness for the USA, with two metrics: positive and negative, depending on words used by Facebook users in their statuses.

External Links: