Kuensel’s Gyalsten K Dorji caught up with Centre for Bhutan Studies President, Dasho Karma Ura, who provided some insight into some of the recent findings of the GNH 1015 survey. 

Why are there four categories of happiness in the GNH index?

One is not happy or unhappy in a clear two-way situation. There are also degrees of happiness in between being deeply happy or unhappy. That is why CBS came out with four categories to which people can be classified.

In order to classify the population by degrees of happiness the main criteria is the number of factors or conditions that a person enjoys. If a person has sufficiency in only 0-49 percent of the factors then he or she is considered unhappy, between 50-65 percent of the factors he/she is narrowly happy, between 66-76 percent “extensively happy”, and between 77-100 percent “deeply happy”.

Is being GNH happy the same as being subjectively happy?

When international media discuss happiness in the West, they usually mean subjective happiness or subjective wellbeing. It is subjective because it is self-reported. GNH survey also enquires into the subject of happiness of the Bhutanese people, but it should be emphasized very clearly that subjective happiness or subjective wellbeing should not be confused with the GNH happiness concept. They measure different things. GNH index takes into account a huge variety of factors or conditions considered necessary for happiness, while subjective happiness or subjective well-being is estimated from a single self-report.

Subjective happiness or subjective well-being is measured by feelings or perceptions of contentment or joy in a person’s life at a particular point in time. The person is the judge of that. It was assessed by one simple question: taking all things together, how happy would you say you are on the scale of 0 to 10. 0 indicates not at all happy and 10 indicates a very happy situation. This question pertained to overall level of subjective happiness at the present moment. The national average was 6.8 out of 10, which is a slight improvement on the national average estimated for 2010. In addition, in the GNH survey, we asked “How happy did you feel yesterday?” to find out happiness level yesterday. The national average for subjective happiness felt yesterday was 7.1 out of 10. The level of subjective happiness yesterday was slightly higher than today. Finally we asked, “Taking all things together, how happy would you say you would be in the future, say within five years from now?” The national average of expected happiness in the five years time was 8.47 out of 10. We asked furthermore, “What is your desired happiness condition?” To find out the ideal level of happiness. The national average for the desired or ideal subjective happiness level was 8.7 out of 10. The ideal subjective happiness level was naturally higher than subjective happiness level that could be achieved in five years time or at present or yesterday. All of these scores seem consistent from a commonsense point of view within themselves.

From the point of view of subjective happiness today (that day of interview), younger people are more subjectively happy then the older ones. This holds true whether we compare subjective happiness level over the life cycle of men or women. Men are subjectively happier than women. Yet we do not know yet whether men are really subjectively happier or whether a higher score depicts a more macho culture of men. Although urban people are subjectively happier than rural residence, statistically the difference is not significant. It cannot be said conclusively with confidence that urban people are happier than rural people.

According to the estimates of subjective happiness level today (at the time of asking the question), the top five subjectively happiest districts in descending order are Dagana, Tsirang, Gasa, Mongar and Thimphu. Thimphu and Gasa can plausible claim high subjective happiness. But, it is extremely puzzling to find these top three subjectively happiest districts (Dagana, Tsirang and Mongar), have very low annual household incomes. This tends to show that there is no clear association between subjective happiness levels and annual household income. But further data mining and analysis is needed to understand and interpret the complexity of reality.

To answer the question on the comparibility between the four GNH happiness categories and subjective happiness, we have to divide the population into four categories by scores of subjective happiness.

Whereas 16.46 percent of the population are deeply happy according to subjective happiness score, only 8.42 percent are deeply happy according to GNH index. According to subjective happiness score 59.86 percent are extensively happy whereas 34.97 percent are extensively happy according to GNH index. Lastly, one percent of the population are unhappy according to subjective happiness whereas 8.75 percent are unhappy according to GNH index. Therefore, it is quite clear that GNH index is more stringent than subjective happiness criterion. The reason is that GNH of a person is a manifestation of sufficient conditions in many areas. Some of them are monetary and others have non-monetary. The minute underlying dimensions and processes through which happiness in GNH way arises. Happiness is GNH way becomes vulnerable whenever the both breadth and depth of those conditions or factors (included in the 33 indicators) gets reduced.

What is causing GNH unhappiness?

GNH unhappy people lack sufficiency in ‘knowledge’, ‘schooling’, and ‘literacy’ indicators respectively. In the case of knowledge, insufficiency means that they have no sufficient level of literacy, no formal education, no knowledge in understanding local tsechu, no knowledge and understanding of traditional songs, no knowledge and understanding on constitution, nor knowledge on how HIV/AIDS is transmitted. The other indicators that GNH unhappy people lack sufficiency are ‘spirituality’, ‘household per capita income’, ‘self-reported health’, ‘government performance’, and ‘housing’. Lack of sufficiency in spirituality relates to regularity of prayer recitation, regularity of meditation, and consideration of karma in the course of daily life and self-reported level of spirituality. Government performance level relates to the opinion of the respondent on the government in creating jobs, in reducing the gap between rich and poor, in fighting corruption, in preserving culture and tradition, in protecting the environment, in providing educational needs, and in improving health services.

By domain, GNH unhappy people’s score is lowest in ‘education’ domain followed by ‘psychological wellbeing’, ‘good governance’, and ‘living standard’ domains. The reason for education domain contributing the GNH unhappiness is because of the backlog of elderly people we have no educational attainment.

What are the common factors contributing to unhappiness?

GNH index formula has not changed over time because changes would not allow temporal comparison between GNH index score of 2010 and 2015. There was confusion in some quarters because they mistakenly thought that GNH index formula has changed.

GNH index classifies people into four categories by degrees of happiness depending on how much factors or conditions calculated under the 33 indicators are present in their life. The factors or conditions include both objective and subjective factors. Subjective factors are perceptual data. Since happiness as defined in GNH is multidimensional, a person’s GNH happiness is naturally greater than the number of factors under the 33 indicators present in his/her life. Moreover, not only those conditions or factors must be present, they must be present in sufficient amount or level, which is also quantified with respect to each condition or factor. So sufficiency threshold plays a critical role in the GNH index. If a condition or a factor is present but in insufficient amount, that person does not meet the sufficiency level in that factor or condition. The idea of meeting a sufficiency level is equivalent to expressing complete satisfaction by a person while having that factor or condition.

Following this logic, GNH index considers a person as unhappy if she or he enjoys sufficiency in less than 50 percent of the weighted indicators. More unhappy people defined in this way are found according to formula a farmers, older people, and woman. Geographically, more of them are found in the districts of Tongsa, Dagana, Tashi Yangtse and Tashigang.

To give an account by numbers, overall, nearly 11 percent of females are unhappy by GNH index compared to only about six percent of males. The sample of unhappy people out of total respondent of 7,153 was 614.

Only 4.77 percent of people living in urban areas are GNH unhappy compare to 10.61 percent of people living in rural areas.

By age, much higher proportion of people in older age cohorts are unhappy by GNH index compared to younger age cohorts. For instance, about 21 percent and 17 percent of those older than 75 and those between 70 and 74 were unhappy respectively. These can be compared to just 4.34 percent and 4.57 percent of those between 15 and 19 and between 20 and 24 respectively who are unhappy.

Comparatively higher proportion of farmers were unhappy by GNH index followed by people who have identified themselves as ‘No need to work’ who are mostly old people, and lastly, housewives/househusbands.

Chukha, Samtse, Thimphu and Tashigang Dzongkhags are the home to maximum number of GNH unhappy people. Together, these four dzongkhags contains 41.45 percent of the 614 sampled GNH unhappy people. Of 614 people identified as GNH unhappy among 7,153 respondents, 11.27 percent lives in Chukha followed by 10.99 percent in Samtse, 9.62 percent in Thimphu, and 9.57 percent in Trashigang.