Posted by: Martin Fox | June 21, 2008

Bhutan and the gross national happiness scale

By Martin Fox – Center for Global Leadership and the Higher Road Initiative

Okay, let’s face it, I love applied economics. A recent National Geographic article highlighting Bhutan’s struggle to retain their cultural heritage (while stepping into the modern world), stopped me in my tracks.

Bhutan refuses to accept the belief that retaining cultural heritage and stepping into the modern world have to be an “either/or” proposition (either you retain your cultural heritage or you step into the modern world).

That is where the Gross National Happiness index comes in, creating an “and/also” value proposition (retaining cultural heritage and using it as a strength to move into the modern world).

Gross National Happiness Index (GNH)…

The traditional Gross Domestic Product index (GDP) measures national output across countries, but the GDP measurement doesn’t help protect what is really important to the citizens of Bhutan (or arguably any country in the longer term). So, the Bhutan government came up with their own index (GNH) – a measurement the rest of the world could learn something from.

The Four Pillars of Gross National Happiness…

  • Sustainable development
  • Environmental protection
  • Cultural preservation
  • Good governance

Bhutan facts…

  • Population 635,000, with half the population under 22 years old.
  • In 1982, the literacy rate was 10% – today it is 60%.
  • In 1982, life expectancy was 43 years – today it is 66 years.
  • In 1992, infant mortality was 163 per 1,000 births – today it is 43 per 1,000 births.
  • Bhutan’s King Wangchuck is the first monarch to voluntarily abdicate his throne to democracy (unsolicited).

What, unsolicited abdication? Yes, the King thinks it is the right thing to do, to the dismay of many citizens.

Hmm, we may be able to learn something here – Gross National Happiness – pretty cool.


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