How does society measure progress, and is growth an indicator of the overall happiness of a society? In Western countries, we often measure progress in terms of economic factors, including our gross domestic product, or GDP. Countries with a high GDP are generally richer, are able to provide citizens with better healthcare, services, and education, and are therefore better off than nations with a low GDP. But do those factors also lead to a happy life?
Bhutan, a small, landlocked country sandwiched between China and India in the Himalayas, measures progress in slightly different terms than the Western world. Over 40 years ago, Bhutan’s King Jigme Singye Wangchuck coined the phrase Gross National Happiness as a guideline on how to build his country’s undeveloped economy while maintaining its unique culture. Now, other countries as well as the United Nations are examining the concept of Gross National Happiness as a replacement for GDP.
As an indicator of progress, Gross National Happiness is arguably a better long-term economic strategy than measuring GDP according to John de Graaf, the co-founder of the Happiness Initiative. De Graaf said on NPR’s To The Point that “limitless growth on a finite planet is not sustainable,” and added, “we have to find a way to measure progress that isn’t dependent on consumption.” (For more on the Happiness Initiative, click here to take a survey that helps measure satisfaction in your own life.)
Of course, one major factor in Bhutan’s adoption of Gross National Happiness is the country’s value system, which is rooted in Buddhism. Za Rinpoche, a Tibetan monk, explained the role happiness plays in Buddhism thought.