A Kingdom Where Happiness is Not Only Part of a Fairytale

We just want to be happy, don’t we?                                    

By: Allan Tamen

Any person’s greatest pursuit in life is to be happy. Everything we do is an attempt, at least in our minds, to lead us to happiness. Who we share our lives with, what we learn, what we own, what we want, who we love, where we live, is all about the concept of happiness, different in each mind, that creates a personal satisfaction in one self. Nevertheless, and for as long as I can remember, nations throughout the world have measured their country’s development and success through GNP – Gross National Product. The result of the countries’ GNP is considered a direct reflection of where the country and its people are headed, as well as the quality of life and potential for development.

GNP is described by Wikipedia as the market value of all products and services produced in one year by labor and property supplied by the residents of a country. As a few examples, the GNP per capita of the US is $15.23 trillion, England $2.71 trillion, China $11.33 trillion, Japan $4.54 trillion, Netherlands $730.85 billion, Mexico $1.74 trillion, Chile $279.06 billion, Brazil $2.26 trillion, Germany $3.28 trillion, Botswana $29.57 billion. What does this tell us? What does it reflect? Do these numbers represent how we live or what we feel? Do higher numbers mean less inequality, frustration, anxiety or insecurity? Does GNP equal Happiness?

Let me tell you about a Kingdom, not so far away, where GNP is not part of their vocabulary and where happiness is the number one priority of the government and its people: the Kingdom of Bhutan.

As Jeffrey D. Sachs best describes the Himalayan Kingdom’s decision in his article The Economics of Happiness: “Forty years ago, Bhutan’s fourth king, young and newly installed, made a remarkable choice: Bhutan should pursue “gross national happiness” rather than gross national product. Since then, the country has been experimenting with an alternative, holistic approach to development that emphasizes not only economic growth, but also culture, mental health, compassion, and community.”

I had the fortune of visiting Bhutan last year. I decided to go because I was curious and wanted to learn more about the country that created the measurement: GNH – Gross National Happiness. Not only was I impressed by the beauty of the Kingdom and the kindness of its people, but I was truly impacted by the clearness in everyone’s mind on what happiness is for the people of Bhutan. I learned that happiness in the country is not a personal concept that varies according to each person’s individual needs, as it may be in other countries; happiness has been clearly defined as the combination of the following factors: psychological wellbeing, health, time use, education, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience and living standards. These factors have been set as the mission, vision and goal of the government for its people. The following table shows how each of the elements mentioned obtains a value, and according to the total, the Kingdom of Bhutan measures the happiness of its population:

Domain Indicators









Psychological wellbeing


Time use


Cultural diversity and resilience

Good Governance

Community vitality

Ecological diversity and resilience

Living standards












A Short Guide to Gross National Happiness Index, The Center for Bhutan Studies, 2012.

Each one of these elements contributes in a different amount and way to the happiness, or lack of, of the Bhutanese people. The percentages are determined as follows:

A Short Guide to Gross National Happiness Index, The Center for Bhutan Studies, 2012.

There is a complex formula to calculate a final percentage and divide the country’s population into levels of happiness, according to the above elements. This calculation is subject of another entry in this blog.

Also, to better understand the country, I must mention that cars were introduced to Bhutan in the early 1970’s, and the first TV arrived in 1999. People dress in their traditional attire. There is no infrastructure, no luxury, no fancy cars, no extreme wealth, no extreme poverty…happiness is easier to achieve when it is the ultimate goal!

There might not be only one factor to consider when measuring a country’s growth, but Bhutan has taught the world that happiness must be mixed in the equation to obtain better results. Other countries, such as Mexico, have started to run questionnaires amongst their population to get a better sense of their people’s well-being. As published in an article that appeared in the Reforma well known newspaper in Mexico on September 7, 2012: “[t]he GNP is a good indicator, but it is not enough, that is why we are going to measure people’s feelings; for the first time ever we are trying to measure people’s satisfaction with life, happiness and mood.”

To measure happiness around the world would help us answer the following questions: does a higher income translate into more happiness? Is the rural population happier than the urban? Do families with children enjoy more happiness than those without? There are thousands of questions that a GNP calculation does not give us the answer to. All these have been an important part in Bhutan’s happiness-led policy.

It is a fact we may not ignore the importance of economics in this complicated formula. As Sachs mentions, “we should not denigrate the value of economic progress. When people are hungry, deprived of basic needs such as clean water, health care, and education, and without meaningful employment, they suffer. Economic development that alleviates poverty is a vital step in boosting happiness.” Nevertheless, growth in GNP around the world has also led to extreme poverty and differences amongst economic classes. In some countries, it has made the middle class disappear. Also, a balanced life is key to happiness. Society has pushed all of us into wanting more – economically, and accepting less personally. Family, friends and a balance between work and leisure is proved to be effective. Globalization and the extreme growth of corporations have helped destroy the environment. People are happier when surrounded by nature, free of pollution, climate stability and a healthy life style (i.e. food and exercise).

“As His Majesty the King [of Bhutan] said, “GNH has come to mean so  many things to so many people but to me it signifies simply – Development with Values”. “We strive for the benefits of economic growth and modernization while ensuring that in our drive to acquire greater status and wealth we do not forget to nurture that which makes us happy to be Bhutanese. Is it our strong   family   structure?   Our culture   and traditions?  Our pristine environment?  Our respect for community and country?   Our desire for a peaceful   coexistence   with other nations?  If so, then the duty of our government must be to ensure that these invaluable elements contributing to the happiness and wellbeing    of    our    people    are    nurtured    and    protected.    Our government must be human.”  (The  Madhavrao  Scindia  Memorial Lecture  delivered  by  His  Majesty  the  King,  23  December  2009  in New Delhi).” (A Short Guide to Gross National Happiness Index, The Center for Bhutan Studies, 2012.)

In conclusion, we all want to be happy, I am sure. Isn’t it time our governments take into account this factor in order to talk about true wealth? And what about companies, shouldn’t happiness also be a factor to determine engagement and possible growth within and organization?

Let’s keep a close eye on Bhutan…happiness within the kingdom will make in interesting story, and surely not a fairytale, but a real one!

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2 Responses to A Kingdom Where Happiness is Not Only Part of a Fairytale

  1. Anonymous says:

    Only those people who have actually visited and seen Bhutan appreciates what it means by Gross National Happiness. Others simply laugh at it. May be IBS is a BUSINESS school, only around couple of students have shown some kind of curiosity and interests in the GNH concept of development and the Bhutan itself when I, anytime thus far in my stay at IBS, attempted to share about it. World and humanity isn’t all about oil reserves, nuclear bombs, money making opportunities, international trade, and wealth accumulation. I personally consider GNH concept as Economic Moderator. Allan, as he told me, is one young man who had a very brief visit to Bhutan around this time last year. I was really excited as soon as I saw the topic of this article, and to learn that it was Allan who wrote this article. Thank you Allan.

  2. Laurents says:

    Thanks for the article. Reminds me a bit of the European Union where all the good it has done on cultural and amicable dimensions appears to be forgotten over economic turbulence and disagreements.

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