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Measuring Gross National Happiness (GNH): 4 pillars, 9 Domains & 72 Indicators

May 27, 2009 By: Bridge to Bhutan Category: Gross National Happiness, News, Sustainable Development, Tourism & Bhutan

For a long time, Bhutan didn’t want to measure happiness. Simply ask one question- Are you happy in Bhutan? and you have the answer… Since the world is increasingly obsessed with numbers, the Center for Bhutan Studies in Bhutan along with the international academia & development practitioners, came up with a formula after several international conferences on GNH. The first conference was held in 2004 in Thimphu, Bhutan and in 2010, it will be held in Brazil.

Happiness formula: Jealousy, sexual misconduct, or apathy toward reciting prayers – Bhutan is now ready with a set of mathematical formulae to measure these personal feelings and collect it all to calculate the country’s happiness.

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Happiness formula uses 72 indicators, from reciting prayers to buying second-hand clothes.

For all those GNH skeptics who said happiness can never be measured, the Centre for Bhutan Studies is ready with the tools.

There are 72 measurable indicators grouped under nine principal domains – time use, living standards, good governance, psychological wellbeing, community vitality, culture, health, education, and ecology.

 But, how is happiness calculated?

 Consider that hours of sleep (a1) and trust in media (a2) are two examples of the 72 indicators that can be measured on a scale of 0 to 1.

 The formula is:

 GNH index = 1 –     a1+a2+…..+a72

                                                72

 There is one more method to calculate happiness, but the above one gives a more efficient result, Tshoki Zangmo, a researcher with the Centre for Bhutan Studies, told BT.

 Following the formula, Bhutan’s GNH index after a survey of 950 respondents from 12 dzongkhags was 0.812. This means that among the 950 respondents the happiness level is 81%.

 The dzongkhags surveyed included Dagana, Tsirang, Wangduephodrang, Samtse, Zhemgang, Pemagatshel, Samdrup Jongkhar, Trashigang, Trashiyangtse, Gasa, Haa, and Thimphu.

 The survey conducted between December 2007 to March 2008 showed Haa to be happiest district with an index of 0.8273 and Dagana to be the least happy with an index of 0.8026.

 Each respondent was asked a long list of questions and an interview took about half-a-day to be completed.

 If the 72 indicator indexes are first weighted to the nine domains, the GNH index is 0.805 and the happy-dzongkhag list changes with Wangduephodrang topping the list with a weighted index of 0.818 and Trashigang trailing as the least happy with 0.790.

 The survey was an improved version of the three-month pilot conducted between September 2006 and January 2007 where 350 people in nine dzongkhags were interviewed. It took about seven to eight hours for one interview.

 While the GNH index is the aggregate of all its indicators, there are specific formulas to measure the 72 specific indicators. For example, the survey of 12 dzongkhags on a question ‘Do you practice meditation?’ with the ideal answer as ‘occasionally’ revealed the lowest index of all questions with 0.098. The highest index was 0.995 on the question ‘How important is it for children to learn discipline?’ with the ideal answer as ‘very important’.

 Of the nine domains, the GNH index on education is the lowest with 0.548, while time use is the highest with 0.970.

 Putting GNH into practice

 A question that has always challenged the study of GNH is how to put the GNH principles into practice? 

 The CBS claims to have an answer for this, too.

 The measure of GNH indicators can serve as evaluative tools against any kind of initiative before it is implemented. It can be used to know in advance whether the initiative is in tandem with the principles of GNH.

 Similarly, all government policies and programs can undergo an exercise before it is implemented to gauge whether it is pro-GNH.

 “The CBS has come up with a set of pro-GNH screening tools and recommends all government policies and programs to undergo the exercise before it is implemented. We have submitted a proposal for the same to the GNH Commission,” said Tshoki Zangmo.

 The Secretary of the GNH Commission, Karma Tshiteem, said the Commission has endorsed the proposal and it will soon be presented to the cabinet. “Once the cabinet approves it, we will be using the (screening) tools in policy making.”

 The GNH screening tools can be applied in two phases, at the project level and the policy level. It has been designed to scrutinize projects and policies to be implemented at three levels: those meant for all ministries and sectors (for example, good governance), for respective ministries (health, education), and for individual sectors (youth employment).

 For a long time, Bhutan envisaged pursuing GNH through the four pillars of sustainable and equitable socio-economic development, environmental conservation, preservation and promotion of culture, and good governance. 

 Talking to the media earlier, the CBS president, Dasho Karma Ura, said: “The four pillars evoke and capture the imagination more easily. At the same time, the metaphor of four pillars is restrictive as it is not all-embracing or encompassing as GNH itself.”

 Addressing the fourth international conference on GNH in Thimphu on November 24 last year, Prime Minister Lyonchen Jigmi Y. Thinley said: “With such a sobering awareness, my government has begun a spirited journey of combining democracy and GNH…We have pledged to consolidate and strengthen the conditions that will enable each citizen to find happiness.”

 More to do

 The 72 indicators developed by the CBS can still be fine-tuned and improved with further research to make it more representative, said Tshoki Zangmo.

 The two initial surveys done by the CBS, with financial assistance from the government and the UNDP, was not nationwide because of which a national GNH data is still desired. 

 The CBS plans to conduct a nationwide survey next year and has approached the UNDP for financial support.

 An official told BT that the 2010 budget programs will be finalized only at the end of this year. “We will look into it then,” he said.

 A major setback in conducting GNH surveys is the volume of questions and the time taken for individual interviews. In both the initial surveys, enumerators took more than six hours to interview one respondent. In the second survey of 950 respondents, a 72-page questionnaire had 290 questions and 604 respondents were farmers and 791 were from rural areas which meant that the enumerator had to verbally explain the question to the respondent and fill up the answers. 

 GNHization

 Coming out with the formula is a commendable achievement for the CBS given that it was mandated by the government to develop the GNH indicators only in 2005.

 Of late, high priority has been placed in defining the country’s course in the line of GNH.

 In January 2008, the Planning Commission was renamed as the GNH Commission. The DPT government has committed itself to the principles of GNH and Lyonchen Jigmi Y. Thinley has announced to establish GNH committees at the ministerial, dzongkhag, and gewog levels.

Gift to the world

 The ingredients of the statistical combination to quantify happiness are designed to suit only the Bhutanese context. However, the mathematical rules can be extended and customized to measure GNH of any economy.

By Tashi Dorji (Source: Bhutan Times)

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10 Comments to “Measuring Gross National Happiness (GNH): 4 pillars, 9 Domains & 72 Indicators”


  1. i feel very proud when someone tries speaking about GNH but there are still small misconception even among our Bhutanese themselves. and why can’t we introduce some of our terms to describe/define GNH and latter send them to Oxford for recognition. This even contributes to our uniqueness.

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  6. I got stuck over the stuff you have in your blog. Most of the time, i really don’t post a comment on stuff like this, but i noticed that your good in this genre. Keep up the good work!

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  7. You are good. That’s all i wanted you to know.

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  8. Claudio pekrun says:

    Dear Sirs,

    in line with the promotion of „Gross National Happiness“ we created a Simpleshow that explains the movement of GNH and comments on the added value for the people, the environment, the social structure and the economy. Furthermore, it shows the influence on other countries that try to adopt GNH´s maxime.

    If you like this Simpleshow, feel free to use the material and/ or youtube link (visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Zqdqa4YNvI) in your work to bring a bit more happiness to everyone of us.

    Best wishes and always a good karma,

    Morten Sondergaard

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