Gross National Happiness

Gross national what?

We talk about gross national product as a measure of a country’s wealth and even well-being. Countries around the world vary significantly in terms of their GNP as well as per capita income or GNP ÷ population. India, which my wife and I called home for several months, has a per capita income of $1262 per year. Compare this with a per capita income of $46,405 in the United States or $6844 in Russia and $5970 in Brazil. How it varies around the world.

Gross National Happiness in Bhutan

Well, in 1971 the ruler of the small, poor, Asian country of Bhutan, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, (pictured) conceived the idea that happiness is more important than material prosperity. In his famous speech before the United Nations, he challenged the conventional, narrow and materialistic notions of human progress by declaring that the existing development paradigm – GNP – did not consider one of the goals of most every human being: happiness. Thereafter he coined the term Gross National Happiness and this tiny country has sought to measure and promote the well-being of its citizens ever since.

For decades Bhutan has been isolated from the rest of the world. But more recently it is engaging with the global community and other countries and social scientists are starting to pay attention to its attempts to measure GNH. What other nations and social scientists are realizing is that this country has successfully implemented government policies to make GNH a living reality.

According to Business Week, Bhutan is the happiest country in Asia and ranked as one of the eight happiest countries in the world. This in spite of a per capita income of $1200 per year and life expectancy of just 55 years (bloomberg). Although a long way to go in their social experiment, it seems the country is on to something.


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