Special Supplement

Understanding Bhutan’s Happiness Index


Bangladeshpost
Published : 23 Mar 2021 08:24 PM

The phrase ‘gross national happiness’ was first coined by the 4th King of Bhutan, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, in 1972 when he declared, “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product.” The concept implies that sustainable development should take a holistic approach towards notions of progress and give equal importance to non-economic aspects of wellbeing.

Since then the idea of Gross National Happiness (GNH) has influenced Bhutan’s economic and social policy, and also captured the imagination of others far beyond its borders. In creating the Gross National Happiness Index, Bhutan sought to create a measurement tool that would be useful for policymaking and create policy incentives for the government, NGOs and businesses of Bhutan to increase GNH.

The GNH Index includes both traditional areas of socio-economic concern such as living standards, health and education and less traditional aspects of culture and psychological wellbeing. It is a holistic reflection of the general wellbeing of the Bhutanese population rather than a subjective psychological ranking of ‘happiness’ alone.

 Composition of the GNH Index

The Gross National Happiness Index is a single number index developed from the 33 indicators categorised under nine domains - psychological wellbeing, health, education, time use, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience, and living standards. The Centre for Bhutan Studies constructed the GNH Index using robust multidimensional methodology known as Alkire-Foster method.

The concept of GNH has often been explained by its four pillars; good governance, sustainable socio-economic development, cultural preservation, and environmental conservation. The four pillars have been further classified into nine domains in order to create widespread understanding of GNH and to reflect the holistic range of GNH values.

The nine domains are equally weighted because each domain is considered to be equal in terms of its intrinsic importance as a component of GNH.

The 33 indicators are statistically reliable, are normatively important, and are easily understood by large audiences. Within each domain, two to four indicators were selected that seemed likely to remain informative across time, had high response rates, and were relatively uncorrelated. Within each domain, the objective indicators are given higher weights while the subjective and self-reported indicators are assigned far lighter weights.

The 2011 GNH index identifies four groups of people. For policy purposes it identifies ‘happiness’ as comprising sufficient achievements in 66% of the weighted indicators, whichever domains they come from. This corresponds to the groups who are identified as ‘extensively’ and ‘deeply’ happy.

 What kind of results does the GNH Index give?

People who have achieved sufficiency in less than 50% are ‘unhappy’, and they comprise 10.4% of the population. A total of 48.7% of people have sufficiency in 50-65% of domains and are called ‘narrowly happy’. A group of 32.6%, called ‘extensively happy’, have achieved sufficiency in 66-76% – in between 6 and 7 domains. And in the last group, 8.3% of people are identified as ‘deeply happy’ because they enjoy sufficiency in 77% or more of weighted indicators – which is the equivalent of 7 or more of the nine domains.

Employing a variant of the Alkire Foster method, the GNH generates three types of results; headcount, intensity and the overall GNH index. Headcount refers to the percentage of Bhutanese people who are happy, while intensity is the average number of domains in which not-yet-happy people are happy.

The Index, the headcount, and intensity are all ‘decomposable’, meaning they can be broken down by population group, for example, to show the composition of GNH among men and among women, or by district, and by dimension, for example to show which group is lacking in education.

In order to have one overall index, the GNH cut off was set at 66% of the variables, which is the middle cutoff used above. People are considered happy when they have sufficiency in 66% of the (weighted) indicators or more – that is, when they were identified as extensively happy or deeply happy.  The GNH Index value for 2010 is 0.737. It shows us that 40.8% of people in Bhutan have achieved such happiness, and the remaining 59% – who are narrowly happy or unhappy – still enjoy sufficiency in 57% (not 66% as required by the index) of the domains on average.

Impact on policy

The GNH index supports policy-making within Bhutan. Policy selection tools are used to review the potential effects of proposed policies on GNH and the results of the GNH index will be tracked over time to evaluate interventions. This ‘GNH Policy Lens’ requires that the policy consequences on all relevant dimensions be considered prior to implementation. In addition, project screening tools are to be implemented in nearly twenty project areas, including agriculture, forestry, trade and manufacturing, media and information, youths, as well as projects that focus on each of the nine dimensions. The stated goal is that all government projects and policies work together to maximize GNH.

 

Source: Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI)