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National happiness

Ike Señeres .

THE Kingdom of Bhutan has taken the lead of using “Gross National Happiness” (GNH) as a measure of success in governance, seemingly in place of, or parallel to using “Gross National Product” (GNP) and perhaps even the “Gross Domestic Product” (GDP). Strictly speaking, and as far as the Bhutanese government is concerned, GNH is only a philosophy that guides them; meaning to say that it is not really an objective economic measure. As it is used by Bhutan, the GNH includes an index which is used to measure the collective happiness and well being of a population. Despite the fact that GNH to them is not really an objective economic measure, they turned it into a goal that is instituted into their constitution.

By definition, the GDP only includes domestic production. Once foreign production by a country’s citizens and corporations are included, the more applicable measure is GNP. However, in the context that it is used by Bhutan, they seemingly do not differentiate much between the GDP and the GNP. Nonetheless, it is very clear that when GNH was first mentioned by a former King of Bhutan in 1972, he said that GNH is more important than GNP. In theory, a country’s GDP could be greater than its GNP, but what usually happens is that its GNP is greater than its GDP. In the context of the GNH however, the GDP appears to be more relevant, because it measures the happiness and well-being of a domestic population, as it was first implemented in Bhutan.

As I see it, it is possible for both GDP and GNH to co-exist in parallel to each other, the former being an objective economic measure and the latter being a social measure, more in the context of being a social philosophy. However, in better times, GNH could become an ideology that will be advocated by a political party, later on adopting it as public policy once it gains political power. In the meantime however, many countries and local governments have adopted the philosophy by using a technical measure now known as the “GNH Index”. Even without capturing political power however, many advocates of GNH have already succeeded in valuing collective happiness as the goal of governance, “by emphasizing harmony with nature and traditional values” (quoted from Wikipedia).

In its present form, the GNH Index is guided by its 4 pillars and its 9 “domains of happiness”. The 4 pillars are (1) sustainable and equitable socio-economic development, (2) environmental conservation, (3) preservation and promotion of culture and (4) good governance. The 9 domains are (1) psychological wellbeing, (2) health, (3) time use, (4) education, (5) cultural diversity and resilience, (6) good governance, (7) community vitality, (8) ecological diversity and resilience, and (9) living standards. It is interesting to note here that good governance is mentioned twice, both as a pillar and as a domain. It is also interesting to note that resiliency is mentioned twice, both in the case of cultural diversity and in the case of ecological diversity. Actually, culture and environment are also mentioned twice both as a domain and as a pillar.

What is even more interesting is that “time use” is mentioned as a domain, seemingly sticking out as novel concept among all the other usual subjects. As I understand it, this idea would mean being able to make good use of one’s time, for whatever purpose one would want to, including time for family, time for recreation and time for education, among others. At the outset, I would say that the two major stumbling blocks to this in the case of the Philippines are the lack of fast transports and the lack of traffic solutions, two problems that are profoundly related to each other. From another perspective, this could also be related to the time needed in earning a living to buy food for the day, or perhaps the time needed to get some water for one’s daily needs. The irony here is that the poor people are the ones who may have lesser time for themselves.

In the past, there have been some debates about the need to focus on more concrete goals, instead of the seemingly abstract GNH goals. Over the years however, GNH seems to have won in the debates, and there are now more adherents than ever. Perhaps the reason for that is there are actually many ways of measuring GNH outcomes in concrete terms. As a matter of fact, I believe that the Human Development Index (HDI) and the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) could be directly correlated with the GNH Index. As it has already happened, the GNH Index is now directly correlated to a Gross National Wellness (GNW) framework that recently emerged. The GNW framework measures 7 dimensions namely (1) economic, (2) environmental, (3) physical, (4) mental, (5) work, (6) social, and (7) political.


E-mail: iseneres@yahoo.com

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