Gross National Happiness Advances


The ongoing financial crisis and failure of traditional models of economic "development" is expediting the search for alternatives. Enter: Bhutan's Gross National Happiness.


In a pilot project designed to measure "happiness", statisticians in the Philippines discovered that people are happiest with family, religion, friends, love life, and health; and least happy with government, politics, and economy. As this research advances, its ripple-effect will require the travel & tourism to also rethink the way it measures "success" and "progress".


For the full text: download pdf or read below. 


When Asia-Pacific statisticians met for the first time under the aegis of the UN regional commission in Bangkok between February 4-6, their agenda included two unusual items: Presentations by Bhutan and Philippines on ways to statistically "measure" public happiness. Amidst the econometric and statistical nomenclature, the two iconic papers provided clear proof of a growing and unstoppable shift towards broadening both the definition and measurement of "progress". It is only a matter of time before the ripple-effect of that trend leads the travel & tourism to also rethink the way it measures "success" and "progress".


According to the U.N., promoting statistical capacity-building has become a top priority, especially in the developing countries, thanks to rapid globalisation, the rise of an information society, the growing demand for transparency and evidence-based policy-making, and "the pressing need to track progress towards time-bound national and global development goals."


Historically, the most important statistical data has focussed on indicators like economic growth levels, trade and foreign investment flows, stock market indices, currency values, etc. But the financial crisis and the failure of mainstream development formulas has diminished the value of these indicators and advanced the search for alternative solutions. The Gross National Happiness (GNH) theory, propagated by the fourth King of Bhutan as far back as in 1972, is now being avidly studied.


According to the Bhutan presentation at the first meeting of the UN Asia Pacific commission's Committee on Statistics, "GNH emphasizes the importance of happiness as a function of meeting both the mental and physical needs of individuals. Unlike GDP-based economic models, the philosophy of GNH considers economic growth as one of the means towards achieving happiness and not as the ultimate objective of development. Thus, while the GDP-based economic model promotes limitless material growth for the excessive comfort of our body, GNH offers a holistic paradigm within which the mind receives equal attention."


Seeking indicators to be used as a basis for planning, monitoring and evaluating GNH, research in Bhutan came up with the following: 1) Psychological well-being; 2) Health of the population; 3) Education; 4) Time use and balance; 5) Community vitality; 6) Cultural diversity and resilience; 7) Ecological diversity and resilience; 8) Living standard; and 9) Good governance. The country now plans to convert these nine indicators into a composite index.


The Philippines already is making progress in that direction. Said the Philippines' presentation to the Committee on Statistics, "Over the years, progress has been conventionally and traditionally measured in terms of economic growth with gross domestic product (GDP) and gross national product (GNP) as measures. However, GDP and GNP do not really measure welfare, thus, other measures such as the human development index (HDI), families of measures of poverty, the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) indicators and happiness index, among others, have surfaced in efforts to improve the monitoring of the development of a nation."


The result: A Philippine Happiness Index (PHI) which strives to measure happiness by combining it with "conventional" economic indicators to come up with a more relevant measure of the progress of a society. Its guiding principle "is the fact that economic progress and happiness are not synonymous."


According to the presentation, "As an individual has his/her own definition/sources of happiness, individuals will be asked to identify domains of their happiness from a list which consists of 1) community participation and volunteer work; 2) cultural activities; 3) education; 4) family; 5) friends; 6) health; 7) income and financial security; 8) leisure and sports; 9) love life; 10) religion and/or spiritual work; 11) ceks life (word deliberately mis-spelt); 12) technological know-how; 13) work; 14) economy; 15) environment; 16) government; 17) politics; and 18) peace and security; and 19) food.


Pilot studies were conducted in September/October of 2007 and 2008 using questionnaires administered to a group of selected (not randomly) participants of the National Statistics Month Opening Ceremony, public and private sector employees working in Makati City. The pilot results were as follows:


On the important sources of happiness:

<> Two most important sources of happiness are family and health;
<> Other important sources of happiness are religion/spiritual work, education, and income/financial security; and
<> Least important sources of happiness include politics, government, community and volunteer work, and cultural activities.


On the actual levels of happiness:

<> Respondents are happiest with family, religion, friends, love life, and health;
<> Least happy with government, politics, and economy;

The GNH theory has many implications for travel & tourism. As taking a holiday itself is just another means of seeking happiness, marketing gurus will soon realise that focussing on the "H" word may produce better results than pressing the traditional motivational buttons such as sight-seeing, shopping, eating, etc.


At the same time, the industry will need to find alternative ways of measuring success than just tabulating visitor arrivals, foreign exchange earnings, average length of stay, etc. There is clearly room for further research into factoring happiness quotients into the analysis. It even may require taking a closer look at the complaints and passenger feedback forms in order to establish what is making visitors "unhappy."


This dispatch contains the full text of the papers presented by Bhutan and Philippines. They explain Bhutan's GNH theory and how it is being adapted in the Philippines. As neither of these papers is posted on any website, readers may wish to remember that they read this first in Travel Impact Newswire.


 Travel Impact Newswire

11th February 2009

Edition 3



More information on Gross National Happiness, two articles to download:







> read more