Gross National Happiness

Some basic information about Gross National Happiness (GNH). To know what I think about GNH, please see my publications.

Around the world, people are staring at Gross National Product figures as a measure of societal well-being. Upon reflection, however, it is easily seen that income figures capture only one, and a merely instrumental, aspect of well-being, and that they often misrepresent actual well-being. Nevertheless, Gross National Product figures continue to dominate debates about development and economic policies, probably because such figures give an illusion of precision and lend themselves to exact quantitative analysis. Apparently, people prefer being precisely wrong to being approximately right, as John Maynard Keynes once said. The logical alternative is to look for other criteria or principles of development that are more to the point, even if less precise.

In this sense, the 4th King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck (1972-2006), coined the term "Gross National Happiness" in the 1970s. Basically, it expresses the simple idea that societal development should serve people's well-being and that economic development is only desirable to the degree it furthers this goal.

Since November 2008, Bhutan has officially adopted a quantitative  GNH indicator. The index has been developed by the Centre for Bhutan Studies which held several GNH conferences and collaborated with a number of researchers from around the world to devise an entirely new indicator that takes an innovative sufficiency perspective.

© Johannes Hirata (last update: March 15, 2009)