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What is Gross National Happiness?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated Feb 24, 2024
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Gross National Happiness (GNH) is a quantitative measure of the happiness of the residents of a nation. The concept was coined by King Jigme Singye Wangchuck of Bhutan in 1972, as part of an overall approach to governance that emphasized more holistic measures of development and the health of the nation's population. Although happiness is by its nature very difficult to measure, some people think that it could be an excellent complement to more objective measures like a nation's Gross National Product.

The concept of Gross National Happiness is rooted in the spiritual values of Buddhism, which place a heavy value on happiness and contentment. Advocates of the use of this measurement as a development indicator believe that material development can be accompanied by a state of happiness for most of a nation's citizens if the development is well managed and happiness is an important value to the government. A similar concept is the United Nations Human Development Index, which takes issues like health care and education into account when calculating the overall health of a nation.

There are four main loci to Gross National Happiness. One of the most important in heavily forested Bhutan is the maintenance of a pristine and healthy environment that is in a state of balance. Use of the environment should ideally be sustainable and harmonious; some people liken the entire country to a form of park, since the Bhutanese environment is zealously guarded.

In addition, the measurement includes a consideration of whether or not a culture's values and beliefs are being preserved and promoted, and it also looks at how socio-economic development is handled. For a high index, development should ideally be sustainable and equitable, incorporating everyone in the society and being practical in the long term. This measurement also considers the role of the government in the health and happiness of its people.

Bhutan itself is one of the least developed nations in the world, leading it to score on the low end of economics-based indexes of national health. However, it is possible that the promotion of Gross National Happiness will benefit Bhutan in the long term by encouraging moderate, sustainable development which actively benefits the country. Many developing countries have struggled with exploitation and other development issues which Bhutan wants to avoid with its more holistic assessment of national health.

While the index could be used for nations other than Bhutan, it might require some adjustment. Not all countries share Buddhist values, for example. Ultimately, the concept illustrates the need to assess a country from several different points of view; it doesn't matter if a country is well developed, for example, if wealth is only in the hands of a few, or if a large proportion of the population cannot read.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By bookworm — On Feb 07, 2009

Somewhere it is said that happiness is wanting what we have. I think we individually play a big role in our own happiness. It is an attitude, embracing our life wherever we might be, while at the same time striving to be better.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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