If you’ve ever studied basic economics or if you tune into the news regularly, you’ve probably heard terms like GDP and GNP being thrown around rather frequently. Gross Domestic Product and Gross National Product are two economic indicators of a country’s success. They are universally understood by people in the industry and by many citizens, though their merits and faults can be debated. But have you ever heard of GNH?

Gross National Happiness is a newer concept that was coined by the Bhutanese in 1972. Like many, I had never heard of Bhutan. The mostly Buddhist nation is surrounded by China and India, east of Nepal and north of Bangladesh.

GNH is centred on the preservation and promotion of four pillars: sustainable development, cultural values, the natural environment, and good governance. The belief is that by following these four pillars, a country or nation can maximize its GNH, which, in turn, will have both social and economic benefits. Sounds like a pretty smart idea to me! Unlike many of the innovative and smart ideas that are generated here in the Western world, Bhutan is thoroughly implementing its cutting-edge idea for commitment to sustainability and general well-being. The nation scrutinizes each of its policies based on the proposed policy’s GNH impact, and has incorporated this measure throughout its economic development plans.

Upon hearing about this new concept, two Canadian researchers developed a GNH Index in consultation with the Bhutanese people, which was a survey to determine happiness. The survey had several interesting conclusions. You can read more about the survey’s conclusions and GNH in general here.

A shorter version of this survey was supposedly developed for use in Victoria, British Columbia in Canada, as well as in Brazil. While I couldn’t find accurate information on when this survey was actually developed and implemented, it seems from the availability of only the 2010 results that it took quite some time to finalize and implement the index.

Regardless, the Bhutanese government has organized a “Meeting of Practitioners and Scholars on Happiness” to further improve the questionnaire and to discuss the survey’s implications for Bhutanese public policies. The meeting is set to occur at the end of the month. No doubt it will be interesting to see if this idea takes hold in other parts of the world as it comes to fruition with meetings such as this.

But, innovations in sustainability always boil down to one question: will it work?

by Fareed Khan


Image: Happiness woman via Shutterstock