The concept of GNH is attributed to the 4th King Jigme Singye Wangchuck. The term „Gross National Happiness” was coined more than 50 years ago in response to a question of a journalist concerning Bhutan’s Gross National Product. The King’s reply has since gained proverbial status: “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product”.
In the following years, Bhutan started to develop a GNH-framework that places a harmonious balance of socio-cultural, political-economic and spiritual-ecological wellbeing at the center of national development. GNH has been instituted 2008 as the goal of the government in the Constitution of Bhutan. It also became the foundation and reference framework of Bhutan’s Five Year Development Plans.
A paradigm of holistic development based on 4 pillars.
The most important factors or conditions of happiness in the Bhutanese context are specified in 9 equally important domains:
By means of 33 key indicators grouped under the 9 domains, the level of happiness and wellbeing is regularly measured and quantified by a GNH Index.
A measure for Happiness and Wellbeing
The GNH Index is a multidimensional measure based on data drawn from periodic representative surveys. The so-far third nationwide GNH-survey was carried out in 2022. Responses of 11.052 respondents above 15 years of age have been analysed.
In 2022 48.1 percent of the Bhutanese population described themselves as deeply or extensively happy.
Gross National Happiness Survey 2022
The GNH Index and the findings of GNH surveys have been used to guide the formulation and monitoring of the Five Year Plans. It was also linked with a set of policy and programme screening tools so that it has practical applications. ( See: GNH Screening Tool, 12th Five-Year Plan 2018 – 2023).
Nontheless Bhutan is still confronted with pressing development challenges, with effects of the past Covid-19 pandemic from which the economy has still not recovered. Thus, there also remain concerns, critizising that the focus on pursuit of happiness might not reflect the real needs and aspirations of the population.
In 2030, the country aims to become a high-income country. Its foundation is intended to be an economy that relies on digital technologies. It remains to be seen whether GNH can maintain its prominent role in the far-reaching reform and transition process associated with these goals.
GNH has not only shaped the development of Bhutan, but has gained wider international recognition.
In July 2011, United Nations (UN) General Assembly Resolution 65/309 invited participating countries to assess the happiness of their populations and use this data to better guide their policies. This was followed on April 2, 2012, at the highest level of the UN by the presentation “Wellbeing and Happiness: Defining a New Economic Paradigm,” where the first World Happiness Report 2012 was launched. It was chaired by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Prime Minister of Bhutan, Jigme Thinley. As a result, in June 2012, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the introduction of the annual World Happiness Day (UN Resolution 66/281).
Since then this paradigm for an alternative socio-economic development has spurred further extensive research and numerous practical initiatives. World Happiness Reports, Better Life Initiative der OECD