Bhutan is a small, tranquil country edged between democratic India and communist China. Very few people have heard of Bhutan, never mind the gift it has given to the world. Bhutan is the first country to have abolished using the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) as an indicator of the country’s economic standing; instead it introduced the GNH (Gross National Happiness) index. This may seem impossible and even astonishing but the ruling leader King Khesar believes that “whatever goals we have – and no matter how these may change in this changing world – ultimately without peace, security and happiness we have nothing”. The concept is intriguing because many governments believe that their mandate is to make their citizens wealthy by growing the GDP level of their country and never question whether their citizens are happy or not. It is, however, not through being happy that we become goal-orientated and productive.
In the UK, a survey was carried out where the public was asked what they believed the government’s duty to be. The responses from 87% of those surveyed believed that it was happiness while the remaining 13% believed it was wealth creation.
In Bhutan, a tremendous amount of thought went into designing the GNH index and this aspect is often overlooked or even unknown. The aim of the GNH index is to place equal importance on socio-economic development, environmental conservation, good business governance and promotion of culture. These four things are addressed in the GNH, because they tie the concept of people, profits and the planet together. Furthermore, every index needs indicators that can be measured if the system is to work.
A question that needs to be raised is if GNH is the goal, then how do we measure the progress? The country of Bhutan chose nine measurement indicators which are:
- Health care
- Living standards
- Time use
- Environmental quality
- Community vitality
- Psychological well-being
These are all standard concepts every citizen wishes from their government. The one measurement that fascinates me was “time use”. Why would government be concerned on how I spend my time? Bhutan’s thinking on this one was if they don’t understand how their citizens use their time, how will the government know what productive capacities their nation has. Furthermore Bhutan believes that unpaid productivity is extremely important, considering the importance of child care, household duties, caring for the elderly or volunteering work. The reason time was incorporated was because there is a positive correlation between time used and subjective well-being. If citizens work long hours and have a poor work-life balance this has a direct knock-on effect on their well-being.
Even though Bhutan is a small speck on the atlas, they have set an exemplary example of an index that incorporates so much more than just economic numbers.