While many developing countries are struggling to fulfill the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, Bhutan's government says it is close to reaching them with the help of a Gross National Happiness index.
Karma Ura has been measuring happiness in Bhutan for 20 years
Karma Ura leans back in his chair. He is wearing a traditional Bhutanese robe. He has a low voice and he comes across as a modest, well-balanced man who is satisfied with life.
Bhutan is close to achieving the UN Millenium Development Goals
He is the president of the Center for Bhutan Studies. Since 1999, his research group has been trying to measure the scale of happiness among the Bhutanese: Gross National Happiness (GNH). But can happiness be measured?
"We do not measure what you call meta-feelings but positive emotional states like generosity and compassion, and the absence of excessive frequency of anger, frustration and jealousy are good indicators of whether people feel happy or not. We can measure indirectly. If you are a victim of very frequent anger and frustration, obviously it means that your mental state - for whatever reason - is not pro-happiness."
72 indicators of happiness
Karma Ura has developed 72 indicators to measure happiness, which he has divided into nine categories - physical well-being, education and good governance are only a few.
Bhutanese households are given questionnaires to fill out on a regular basis, which Karma Ura’s research group then evaluates.
Some example questions are: Have you ever thought of committing suicide? Or how often do you experience jealousy?
However, Karma Ura knows it is more difficult to measure Gross National Happiness than it is to measure Gross Domestic Product (GDP). "Our method of aggregating various indicators into one single composite GNH measure is not really perfect. It is just an attempt, an exploration or a work in progress. Over the years, we will see a refinement of this method.
"I must mention that happiness is not to be confused with momentary pleasure. It is more lasting, more durable, more satisfying, a feature of your life. Let’s ask ourselves whether we can develop alternative indices of well-being so that we are not misguided into thinking that GDP and economics alone define what is well-being and happiness for us."
To measure national happiness, questionaires are distributed to households
Rethinking values to make a better world
Does he think that violent conflicts, ecological disasters and economic crises are the result of pursuing the wrong values?
Not necessarily, but the concept of GNH can certainly help contribute to a more balanced world.
"The Western world is rethinking what is a good economy, what is a good life, what is good politics, what is good governance. There is a fresh enquiry going on around the world. GNH can be part of the debate and the discourse. We must harvest and tap into good ideas coming from everywhere – anything that offers a path forward has to be examined."
This week, Bhutan’s Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley addressed the United Nations General Assembly and suggested adding happiness to the Millennium Development Goals.
He left the podium with a smile and received a strong ovation. This gave the world leaders a moment of amusement, perhaps even of happiness.
Author: Chi Viet Giang
Editor: Anne Thomas