Redefining Progress: Gross National Happiness and Lessons from Bhutan
Do economic indicators give a full and accurate picture of measure of progress? Measures like GDP are at the forefront of many countries’ progress reporting, and are typically meant to be a broad measure of welfare within a country. However, GDP and other economic indicators like it tend to miss one of the most important components of “welfare”: happiness.
In October, Reeve Founder and President Tim Reeve travelled to Bhutan with 19 other internationals to learn about the Gross National Happiness (GNH), a framework that has been used to guide and measure progress for nearly 50 years. The week-long work study program was hosted by the GNH Centre of Bhutan, and served as a cultural tour and learning experience for its attendees.
Origins of Gross National Happiness
GNH was introduced in Bhutan in the 1970s, when King Jigme Singye Wangchuck insisted that GDP alone could not measure the welfare of the country, and that happiness was a critical indicator of progress and community wellbeing. The indicator was officially embraced by the Bhutanese government in 2008, and has been measured ever since. Each year, the Bhutanese government surveys people from all 20 regions, asking 133 questions categorized into the following 9 domains:
- Good Governance,
- Community Vitality,
- Living Standards,
- Environment, and
- Psychological Well-being.
Reeve’s 2023 Learning Journey
After starting their journey in Bhutan’s capital city of Thimphu, the group travelled to the cultural sites of Punakha, and the world-renowned Tiger’s Nest just outside the bustling town of Paro. They visited a traditional medicine hospital, local schools, and various temples along the way, learning about Bhutanese culture and Buddhism; both bedrocks of the emphasis on ‘happiness’.
During one of the many reflective conversations on the trip, Tim asked his guides what the rest of the world could do to help Bhutan. He found their answer insightful, and something that anyone could put into practice: slow down. Many countries are progressing incredibly rapidly with their technology, increasing living standards, and economic growth. Bhutan often struggles to keep up, and feels pressure to accelerate their advancement, especially from younger generations. This rapid progression erodes culture, forces out traditions, and increases the gap between Bhutan and more developed countries. The GNH centre of Bhutan urges these countries and their people to slow down, embrace traditions and culture, and slow the race towards endless growth.
Chokkshay is a spiritual word in Bhutanese that loosely translates to “the knowledge of enough”. It is a philosophy, where instead of seeking short-term joy through consumption, one finds contentment in life as it is right now. The idea speaks to the limits of growth, and how humans can’t continue to seek more and more and still live in harmony within the finite limits of the planet.
The concepts of slowing down and chokkshay resonated with Tim personally, as well as relate back to procurement and purchasing. As Reeve promotes sustainability in purchasing decisions, how can we also promote this idea of triple bottom line and using happiness related indicators to measure our progress?
Tim and his other colleagues from Vancouver will be meeting in the near future to discuss how the GNH principles could be applied in British Columbia and beyond, and how the concepts of “slowing down” and “Chokkshay” can lead to both economic vitality and increased happiness.
“To me, GNH is simply development with values.” – His Majesty King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.