Measuring Happiness

How can we measure a nation’s well being? Most countries currently use the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – the sum of all economic activity or total market value – as an overall wellness indicator. Therefore, when the economy is in good health, factors such as oil spills, natural disasters, and high cancer rates get ignored.

In recent years, the Australian Treasury developed a “well-being framework,” taking into consideration (i) the level of opportunity and freedom that people enjoy, (ii) the level of consumption possibilities, (iii) the distribution of those consumption possibilities, (iv) the level of risk that people are required to bear, and (v) the level of complexity that people are required to deal with. For the moment, Australia’s new index will be used only as a descriptive tool, but could this be the first step towards policy change?

Other countries have attempted to look beyond GDP to evaluate the well-being of their citizens. Most notably, Bhutan’s monarch declared in 1972 that the country’s goal was to increase Gross National Happiness (GNH). Bhutan’s minister Dasho Meghraj Gurung stated that “The ideology of GNH connects Bhutan’s development goals with the pursuit of happiness. This means that the ideology reflects Bhutan’s vision on the purpose of human life, a vision that puts the individual’s self-cultivation at the center of the nation’s developmental goals, a primary priority for Bhutanese society as a whole as well as for the individual concerned.”