Gross National Happiness Index

Gross Domestic Product (GDP), defined as the value of goods and services produced in a country in a given period of time, is the globally accepted indicator for standard of living.

However, the old saying “Money can’t buy you happiness” seems to be coming to the attention of world leaders and policy makers.

Is it possible to recognize a good standard of living that isn’t based solely on the continuous consumption of resources? How do we measure progress or make policy decisions? The country of Bhutan has come up with the Gross National Happiness Index (GNH).

This is not a new concept to Bhutan; creating happiness was incorporated in its 1729 legal code. The Centre for Bhutan Studies explains that the GNH includes harmony with nature and concern for others. The GNH is based on four pillars: sustainable development, preservation and promotion of culture, conservation of environment, and good governance.

The pillars are measured with thirty-three indicators such as literacy, health, working hours and political participation. Conservation of the environment is measured by testing people’s awareness and responsibility for the environment through national surveys.

A detailed questionnaire is developed to survey the citizens every few years to benchmark and measure progress. The survey provides information to guide government decisions and policies.

The concepts of the GNH Index are also included in the education system. Bhutan schools practice zero waste management. They recycle their waste and use renewable school supplies. They use school vegetable gardens to teach the importance of environmentally friendly practices.

Children in Ontario schools learn similar lessons due to the Ontario Ecoschools program that recognizes schools for their environmental achievements.

Bhutan’s Minister of Education has described the GNH Index as “a set of guiding principles through which we are navigating our path towards a sustainable and equitable society.”

The United Nations has become interested in the concept and held a meeting in April 2012 titled “Defining a New Economic Paradigm” which featured Bhutan’s GNH. These discussions continued at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, held in Brazil in June. A public dialogue has been created at the United Nations level on practical means to ensure that social and environmental values are included and given weight in development decisions.

How do you think Canada would rate using this sort of index and do you think such an index would lead to beneficial programs and policies that would support sustainable development in Canada?


About Shirley McLean

I am the Supervisor of Solid Waste Planning at Halton Region. My educational background includes a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Engineering from the University of Guelph. My career focus is to work on programs and policies that lessen the environmental impact of waste on our earth.
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1 Response to Gross National Happiness Index

  1. Tia says:

    These are really fantastic ideas.

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