OPHI Measure Used in Creating the Bhutan Gross National Happiness Index

‘We must always remember that as our country, in these changing times, finds immense new challenges and opportunities, whatever work we do, whatever goals we have – and no matter how these may change in this changing world – ultimately without peace, security and happiness we have nothing. That is the essence of the philosophy of Gross National Happiness.’ –His Majesty King Khesar, The 5th Druk Gyalpo of Bhutan, 2008.

‘I wish to pay special gratitude to Sabina Alkire [Director of OPHI] for her visit to Bhutan, which led to substitution of the methodology for construction of GNH index I adopted earlier by her innovative aggregation method.’ –Karma Ura, Director of Centre for Bhutan Studies, 2008. For more information on the GNH see this website.

The term ‘Gross National Happiness’ (GNH) was first coined by Bhutan’s King Jigme Singye Wangchuck in 1972 when he declared that ‘Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product [GDP]’. As Karma Ura of the Centre for Bhutan Studies (CBS) explained: ‘[the] dominant, conventional indicators, generally related to GDP, reflect the quantity of physical output of a society. Yet GDP is heavily biased towards increased production and consumption, regardless of the necessity or desirability of such outputs, at the expense of other more holistic criterion’. This view is consistent with the growing consensus among scholars and practitioners that well-being or poverty is a multidimensional phenomenon that cannot be adequately measured by income alone.

GDP and other conventional indexes of growth and income are, however, relatively simple to calculate. In order for GNH to be of practical use it needed a theoretically sound method of measurement. Only with concrete GNH indicators would it be possible to construct reliable development policies and programmes in Bhutan that were consistent with the GNH philosophy. These were needed to measure progress towards meeting the goals of GNH and therefore in 2005 the government of Bhutan instructed the CBS to create a GNH Index. The CBS conducted a pilot survey and later ran a full survey to gather the primary data necessary to develop the Index. The CBS surveys covered the dimensions of GNH, psychological well-being, health, time use, education, culture, good governance, ecology, community vitality, and living standards. Each of these dimensions was subdivided into several indicators.

Once the data were gathered it was necessary to process it into useful information for policymaking and resource allocation. To accomplish this, the CBS worked with the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) to apply the Alkire-Foster methodology for creating the Gross National Happiness Index of Bhutan. It was the first use by a national government of the Alkire-Foster measure. For more on this methodology see OPHI Working Paper 7.

Recent New York Times coverage of the Bhutan National Happiness Index can be found at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/07/world/asia/07bhutan.html?_r=1