Gross National Happiness (GNH)

The preceding Healthymemory Blog Post criticized the Gross National Product as a measure of well-being. There are alternatives, for example Gross National Happiness (GNH)1. The term “gross national happiness” was coined in 1972 by the Kind of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck. And he did more that coin a term; he opened a center and formulated a program for developing the concept and measuring it. He engaged scholars throughout the world and began having international conferences. He was committed to build an economy that would serve Bhutana’s culture based on Buddhist spiritual values. Readers of the Healthymemory Blog should be familiar with how Buddhist meditation techniques have found to be important for emotional and memory health (try entering “Buddhism” in the search box. Also try entering “Meditation”).

The proposal is to treat happiness as a socioeconomic development metric. A GNH value would be an index function of the total average per capita of the following measures:

  1. Economic Wellness: This would involve direct surveys of people and statistical measurement of economic metrics such as consumer debt, average income to consumer price index ratio and income distribution.

  2. Environmental Wellness: This would involve direct surveys of people and statistical measurement of environmental metrics such as pollution, noise, and traffic.

  3. Physical Wellness: The proposal would employ statistical measurement of physical health metrics such as severe illness. I think this index should also include direct surveys of people.

  4. Mental Wellness: This would involve direct surveys of people and statistical measurements of mental health metrics such as the usage of antidepressants and the rise of decline of psychotherapy patients.

  5. Workplace Wellness: This involves direct surveys of individuals and the statistical measurement of labor services such as jobless claims, job change, workplace complaints, and lawsuits.

  6. Social Wellness: This involves direct surveys of individuals and statistical of social metrics such as discrimination, safety, divorce rates, complaints of domestic conflicts and family lawsuits, public lawsuits, and crime rates.

  7. Political Wellness: This involves the direct survey of individuals and the statistical measurement of political metrics such as the quality of local democracy, individual freedom, and foreign conflicts.

    Understand that this would be a measure of the GNH of a country. How the metric is defined might well vary from country to country as different factors might be included or weighted differently. One’s country GNH might not reflect a single individual’s happiness very well. You might live on a block with very wealthy home. You might live, zoning restriction permitting, in a mobile home on the same block. Your respective incomes might vary by more than an order of magnitude, yet your family might be much happier than the residents in the wealthy home. That home might be experiencing conflicts and be on the verge of a divorce.

    It should be generally understood, but apparently it isn’t, that the value of money is not linear. In other words, the value of a dollar to someone earning $10,000 is much more than to a person earning $100,000. So a graduated income tax makes sense psychologically as well as economically. There is only so much that an individual, or that individual’s family (even an extended one) can enjoy or use. Unfortunately, there are many who view success by the money and physical goods they possess. So they will fight to avoid taxes and to keep their taxes low even though it is not feasible that this additional income will benefit them. I applaud the two leading capitalists in the United States, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, who realize this and are behaving accordingly. I’m reminded of the saying by a Texan that money is like manure; it’s no good unless it’s spread around.

    Another measure for either replacing or accommodating the shortcomings of the GDP is the Inclusive Wealth Index (IWI)2. The IWI includes three kinds of assets: manufactured or physical capital (machinery, buildings, infrastructure, and so forth; human capital (the populations’ education and skills): and natural capital (including land, fossils, fossil fuels, and minerals). The IWI contains important information not in the GDP. A county can appear to be doing quite well in terms of its GDP, but exhausting its natural resources at an alarming rate. A country like South Korea with its impressive human capital can do quite well without physical resources.

    So the shortcomings of the GDP are realized. Unfortunately it is still relied upon too heavily. We must move, and move quickly, to more relevant measures.

1Go to the Wikipedia for an informative alternative and many useful links.

2The Economist, June 30th 2012, p.78. And the “Inclusive Wealth Report 2012”,

© Douglas Griffith and, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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