From Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to Gross National Happiness (GNH): Assessing Happiness as an Alternative Indicator of National Progress
For decades, policymakers and economists have relied on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as the primary indicator of a nation’s progress. GDP measures the total value of goods and services produced within a country’s borders, serving as a yardstick for economic growth and development. However, the exclusive focus on GDP fails to capture important elements of human well-being and does not consider the environmental and social consequences of economic activity. As a result, alternative indicators, such as Gross National Happiness (GNH), are emerging as more comprehensive measures of a nation’s progress.
While proponents argue that GDP provides crucial information about a country’s economic state, critics argue that it fails to account for critical aspects of a society’s well-being. GDP growth can occur at the expense of environmental degradation, income inequality, and social unrest, ultimately undermining long-term sustainability and societal welfare. In recognition of these limitations, Bhutan, a small landlocked country in South Asia, pioneered the idea of measuring national progress through GNH.
GNH goes beyond material wealth and economic indicators. It considers a broader range of factors, including health, education, quality of life, social well-being, environmental sustainability, and cultural preservation. It emphasizes holistic development, aiming to create a society where citizens enjoy not only material satisfaction but also mental and spiritual well-being. Bhutan’s GNH Index assesses these aspects through surveys and metrics, enabling policymakers to make informed decisions that prioritize well-being over economic growth alone.
One key advantage of GNH is that it shifts the focus from narrow economic goals to a more balanced approach. It acknowledges that economic success does not guarantee happiness and well-being for citizens. By measuring and valuing non-economic factors, GNH allows policymakers to evaluate the impact of policies on people’s lives more holistically. For instance, investments in education and healthcare that improve the well-being of citizens are given equal importance alongside economic indicators. This approach promotes sustainable development and ensures that national progress is aligned with the goals and aspirations of its citizens.
In addition to providing a more comprehensive assessment of national progress, GNH also encourages governments to pursue policies that prioritize sustainability and environmental conservation. With its emphasis on balancing economic development with environmental protection, GNH encourages countries to adopt strategies that promote green growth and mitigate the negative impacts of economic activities on ecosystems. By considering the long-term well-being of citizens, rather than short-term economic gains, GNH promotes a more sustainable and resilient society.
Critics argue that measuring happiness and well-being is subjective and difficult to quantify. While this is a valid concern, many countries are now utilizing a combination of subjective and objective indicators to overcome this challenge. By conducting regular surveys on citizens’ well-being and examining concrete factors such as education levels, healthcare access, and social support networks, policymakers can paint a more comprehensive picture of a nation’s progress.
As the limitations of GDP became increasingly apparent, many countries are now exploring alternative indicators that better reflect the multi-dimensional nature of progress. Bhutan’s GNH has sparked international interest and has been a catalyst for broader discussions on the need to redefine progress beyond purely economic measures. Several countries, including New Zealand, are now integrating GNH-like frameworks into their policymaking process, demonstrating a shifting paradigm away from GDP as a sole measure of national progress.
While GDP will continue to play a role in economic assessments, it is crucial to recognize its limitations and explore alternative indicators such as GNH. As societies strive for a higher quality of life, it is essential to shift the focus from economic measures to a broader understanding of well-being. By embracing a more holistic approach, nations can create policies that align economic, social, and environmental goals, ultimately leading to a more sustainable and happier future for their citizens.