Gross National Happiness is a concept created from The Kingdom of Bhutan. The GNH index is a holistic approach, measured by Bhutanese’s sense of being well-governed, their relationship with the environment, satisfaction with the pace of economic development, a sense of cultural and national belonging. In addition to analyzing the happiness and wellbeing of the people, it also guides how policies may be designed to further create enabling conditions for the weaker scoring results of the survey.

The idea of GNH was first established by His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the Fourth King of Bhutan in the early 1970s. At the time, His Majesty had questioned the real meaning of happiness, as he regarded that the rich are not always happy, but the happy consider themselves rich. Eventually, his idea of development is to make “the people prosperous and happy.”

The concept of Gross National Happiness is founded on the belief that when material and spiritual development occurs side by side to complement and reinforce each other, true development of the society will take place.

There are four pillars of GNH used as indicators of happiness:

Good governance

Determines the conditions in which Bhutanese thrive. While policies and programs developed in Bhutan are mostly in line with the values of GNH, there are also a number of tools and processes employed to ensure the values are set in social policy.

Sustainable Socio-economic Development

A thriving GNH economy must value the social and economic contributions of households and families, free time, and leisure given the roles of these factors in Happiness.

Preservation and Promotion of Culture

Happiness is believed to be influenced by the preservation of the Bhutanese culture. Developing cultural resilience can be understood as the culture’s ability to maintain and develop cultural identity, knowledge and practices, and be able to overcome challenges and difficulties from other norms and ideals.

Environmental Conservation

Environmental Conservation is a key feature of GNH. Besides providing critical services such as water and energy, the environment contributes to aesthetic and other stimulus that can be directly healing to people, who enjoy vivid colours and light, untainted breeze and silence in nature’s sound.

The four pillars are further elaborated into nine domains, which articulate the different elements of GNH in detail and form the basis of GNH measurement, indices and screening tools.

  • Living standards
  • Education
  • Health
  • Environment
  • Community Vitality
  • Time-use
  • Psychological well-being
  • Good Governance
  • Cultural resilience and promotion

These 9 domains clearly demonstrate that from the perspective of GNH, many inter-related factors are vital in building the conditions for happiness.

Bhutan has developed 38 sub-indexes, 72 indicators and 151 variables are developed according to these 9 domains to define and analyse the happiness of Bhutanese people.

The GNH Screening Tool is a system that guarantees all development policies and projects of Bhutan are assessed under the lens of GNH. The GNH Screening Tool evaluates, monitors, sets goals and raises national consciousness about what conditions are contributing to the happiness and wellbeing of the people, and of the country as a whole. The GNH screening tools can be applied in two phases, at the project level and the policy level. In general, it consists of three types:

  1. For all ministries and sectors (e.g. good governance)
  2. For respective ministries (e.g. education, health)
  3. For individual sectors (e.g. youth, employment)

The Gross National Happiness Commission is the highest government body authorised to formulate and monitor policies. It is “an Institution that promotes an enabling environment for all Bhutanese to be happy and steer national development towards the promotion of happiness for all Bhutanese guided by the philosophy of GNH.” Policies in Bhutan starting from the sectors begin with the preparation of a Concept Note, which is submitted to the Commission for endorsement. The results of the conducted GNH Screening exercise by the Commission will then be shared with the concerned sectors and submitted to the Cabinet for final approval.

The idea of GNH, however, no longer is just a one-country thing. It has started to draw attention from other countries, showing their interest in the way Bhutan has practiced this concept. In 2012, as world leaders prepared to meet in Doha for the second week of the UN climate change conference, Bhutan's stark warning that the rest of the world is on an environmental and economical suicide path had gained traction. In 2011, the UN adopted Bhutan's call for an integrated approach to development, a move endorsed by 68 countries. A UN panel is now looking for ways to replicate Bhutan’s GNH model across the globe.

Bhutan is also treated as an example of a developing country that has put environmental conservation and sustainability at the heart of its political agenda. In the last 20 years, Bhutan has doubled life expectancy, enrolled almost 100% of the children in primary school and improved its infrastructure. The concept of GNH has been developed and applied more practically into the changing life of Bhutanese, more and more efficiently throughout the years in the witness of the people.

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