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Dvasia

Pradžiai:
The flawed era of GDP is finally coming to an end

Every five years, researchers like Zangmo from the government’s Centre for Bhutan Studies go to great lengths to survey a nationally-representative sample of over 7,000 Bhutanese citizens. The purpose? To gauge the country’s happiness. “It’s one of the biggest social surveys in the world,” Zangmo says. Since 1972, when the country’s fourth king proposed the idea of ‘Gross National Happiness’ (GNH) as an alternative to gross domestic product (GDP) – the measure of a country’s economy – Bhutan has sought to measure a suite of other factors that it believed could more fully capture national progress – from psychological health, to sense of community.

In April 2010, Tshoki Zangmo propelled herself up steep, snow-dusted slopes to reach Laya, a remote town in the mountainous district of Gasa, Bhutan. She was two days’ walk from the nearest city, and this hike formed just one leg of what would be a six-month trail across the small, South Asian Kingdom of Bhutan. “There was no guaranteed accommodation, so we had to carry sleeping bags everywhere. We cooked our own meals and ate whatever we found,” Zangmo says.

She was there to enter villagers’ homes, and measure their happiness. Wielding a 148-question survey, Zangmo would ask meticulous questions covering every aspect of their lives. ‘How anxious are you about your children’s future?’ she would ask. ‘How spiritual do you consider yourself to be?’

Every five years, researchers like Zangmo from the government’s Centre for Bhutan Studies go to great lengths to survey a nationally-representative sample of over 7,000 Bhutanese citizens. The purpose? To gauge the country’s happiness. “It’s one of the biggest social surveys in the world,” Zangmo says. Since 1972, when the country’s fourth king proposed the idea of ‘Gross National Happiness’ (GNH) as an alternative to gross domestic product (GDP) – the measure of a country’s economy – Bhutan has sought to measure a suite of other factors that it believed could more fully capture national progress – from psychological health, to sense of community.

When Bhutan formally enacted GNH as the government's express responsibility in 2008, the timing was fortuitous. The global financial crash saw governments suddenly looking for alternatives to their current measures of progress. Taking its cue from Bhutan, France’s former president Nicolas Sarkozy commissioned a major report in 2009 that made the case for wellbeing as a measure of progress, instead of GDP. In 2010, former prime minister David Cameron announced the UK would start measuring wellbeing alongside economic growth, prompting a vast data-collection effort by the country’s Office for National Statistics. Then in 2012, at the behest of Bhutan, the United Nations convened an international meeting to devise a new, more “holistic approach to development”. Ultimately, that spawned the UN World Happiness Report, an influential compendium that ranks countries according to citizens’ self-reported happiness.

Riding the wave, several countries now have whole ministries, departments, and programs devoted to happiness. In the United Arab Emirates, a dedicated minister oversees the National Program for Happiness and Wellbeing. And New Zealand has recently taken what many consider to be the boldest step: the launch of a Wellbeing Budget that’s designed to usher in policies that deliberately target public welfare.

Yet, as countries race to be recognised for national happiness, there are still questions over how we measure this fuzzy emotion – and what tangible change can truly result from nations tallying it up. Critics argue that at worst, it’s a distraction governments use to draw a cloak over their own failings. But if they play it right, could some good come from it, too?

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