The small South Asian nation of Bhutan has for decades undertaken a bold experiment to measure development progress by the happiness of its citizens, rather than by their wealth, according to the Asian Development Bank report, The Experience of Gross National Happiness as Development Framework.

  1. The idea of happiness as a guiding principle for government reaches back for centuries in Bhutan. The 1729 legal code of Bhutan states: “The purpose of the government is to provide happiness to its people. If it cannot provide happiness, there is no reason for the government to exist.”

  2. Over the years, the government of Bhutan refined that philosophy to develop policies that aim to provide enabling conditions for happiness, rather than trying to directly provide happiness.

  3. During the mid-1970s, Bhutan’s King Jigme Singye Wangchuck first introduced gross national happiness (GNH), and said that gross domestic product (GDP) is less important because it could not deliver happiness and well-being.

  4. The limitations of GDP as a measure of progress include the fact that it does not make a distinction between GDP made from good development and GDP made from bad development; that it does not value natural, human, and social capital; and it does not value free time, leisure, or unpaid work.

  5. Gross National Happiness policies take into account equality, family integrity, health, gender equity, and satisfying jobs, among other things.

  6. The policy envisions a person to be bonded deeply to a safe and supportive community in which trustworthiness of the people is high, and fear of victimization by other human beings is ideally nonexistent.

  7. The community envisioned in Gross National Happiness is set deeply in nurturing ecology, just as an individual is deeply bonded to a community.

  8. Gross National Happiness also includes specific indicators. In the area of health, it envisions a person to have over 26 healthy days a month, have high self-reported health, and not suffer from serious deprivations because of disabilities.

  9. The 2010 Gross National Happiness survey of 7,146 people asked them to rate their subjective well-being on a scale of 0–10. The national average was 6.066 for 2010 suggesting a very good level of happiness in Bhutan in spite of its being a least developed country with a low per capita income.

  10. In Bhutan, the policy of Gross National Happiness has created new norms of official decision making and new institutions, and has helped the country strike a balance between modernity and tradition.

  11. Gross National Happiness has helped guide public discussions and the formulation of policies and laws in the country.

  12. A major success of the policy is that Bhutan has remained a reasonably equitable and sustainable society where the proportion of happy people is high despite a relative low level of per capita income.