Are People Happy in the Kingdom of Bhutan?

The role of the government and the opinion of its people                  

By: Allan Tamen

Welcome back to all those Asiaholics!  My last entry titled “A land where happiness is not only part of a fairytale”, explained the Gross National Happiness (“GNH”) index used in the Kingdom of Bhutan to measure the country’s development and success. The blog created lots of interest amongst my readers yet raised many questions regarding the index, the most relevant of which I will attempt to address in the following lines.

Bhutan has positioned itself globally as a happy country; a place where people enjoy life, and where economics is not the only thing that matters.  Politicians have focused on explaining the balance that exists in the GNH index and the importance of such equilibrium. Therefore, the most important question is, are Bhutanese truly happy? Despite of what is said or done at a higher level, do the people of the Kingdom appreciate such measurements and way of life? How has the government influenced this so called happiness?

According to a survey conducted in 2010 by the government, and published by the Center for Bhutanese studies, the GNH value is 0.743 (out of a 1.0 scale). This means that 40.9% of Bhutanese are happy. According to the GNH, happiness is reached when six out of the nine domains (mentioned in earlier blog and shown below), or the equivalent proportion of conditions are met. Also, 59% of Bhutanese who do not fall within the “happy category”, lack sufficiency in 4 domains, but enjoy 5.

Despite the precise numbers the GNH index shows, it is interesting to analyze them according to subgroups: age, gender and occupation, for example, can be a great influence on the measurement. According to the most recent survey, men are happier than women; the young and unmarried population is much happier than the married portion; people are happier in urban areas than in rural; and the higher level of education creates more happiness.

On the critique side, much has been said of the government’s efforts to define GND in the way that best fits their interests. The 9 domains may be subjective in some ways. As professor Deirdre McClosket says, asking people if they are happy is like questioning them on how cold or hot the weather is today. It depends on each person’s personal conception of the words. McClosket also criticizes that “high culture has in fact always flourished in eras of lively commerce, from fifth-century Greece through Song China and Renaissance Italy down to the Dutch Golden Age”[1].

It is a fact that Bhutan is a happy country with happy people. Notwithstanding the above, Bhutan is not only a fairytale; it is also a country that suffers from many problems any developing nation like it does. And of course, politicians and the government will always try to place Bhutan in the highest position possible in the eyes of the world. Nevertheless, the government is trying to make Bhutan a better place for its people by using a more holistic approach.

Today, Bhutan is considered a “developing country”, as opposed to a “least developed” one as it would have been classified a few years ago. Most importantly, the government and its people area aligned and have the same vision: to be happy. That is surely a huge first step!

Lets continue learning about this great country, and let all nations be inspired by the Bhutanese government and its people who are seeking happiness as a way of life.

“If the government cannot create happiness for its people, then there is no purpose for government to exist” – Bhutan’s Legal Code 1629


[1] McCloskey, Deirdre N. (June 28, 2012). Happyism: The Creepy New Economics of Pleasure. The New Republic. pp. 16-23.

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