Centre for Bhutan Studies President, Dasho Karma Ura spoke with Kuensel’s Gyalsten K Dorji on the basics of the GNH Index
Q&A: What is the GNH Index and why do we need it?
An index is a crunched number. If GDP is not so baffling to policy makers, GNH index should not be at all because it is simpler. GDP is a very useful measurement, especially for the short term. It is not at all useful if you wish to know about other aspects of a society. GDP brings every income or output that it can under the measuring rod of money. But GDP cannot and does not value psychological well being, community vitality, good governance, time for leisure and sleep, culture and environment, etc., though they are valuable. These spheres of life can be judged by indicators to reflect a balanced and flourishing society. Therefore such indicators are of interest to every citizen and those who make laws, policies and programs for the citizens. If a certain thing, whether it is monetary or non-monetary, is to be preserved and promoted because it has intrinsic value, it ought to be kept under radar of the government and society. GNH index is a holistic index to measure wellbeing and happiness of Bhutanese that takes account of material and nonmaterial aspects of living well and happily. GNH has far less bias than GDP as a measure of progress in an overall sense because of its inclusion of several dimensions of living well that is left out in GDP. Each composite measurement system, whether it is GDP, GNH, HDI, among several others, have its relative strengths and weaknesses exhibiting relatively more robustness in the area of predominant intention for which it was designed. From a technical point of view, GNH index method should be guided by consideration of reliability, validity, and relevance, and those of us involved in the methodological aspect of the index pay a good deal of attention to its analytical rigour and soundness. Brainpool, a research project funded by European Union, rated
GNH index quite high among a range of indexes introduced in various countries. GNH index received favourable review from four international standpoints it reviewed: public, policy, scientific and media perspectives.
How is the GNH Index measured?
The concept and measurement of GNH has attempted to be sensitive to the common sense understanding of factors from which people derive joy and happiness. GNH indicators measures both breadth and depth of these factors. The value for GNH index lies between zero and one. GNH index score for 2015 is 0.756 compared to 0.743 in 2010. GNH index crunches 130 different variables, turning them into 33 indicators and one composite index. In 2010 there were 124 variables but addition of six does not matter because of adjustment through their relative weights. Although it is theoretically possible for the GNH index value to rise to one, it is historically not easy to observe this for society as a whole, unless everyone scores perfectly in every factor. If a person, fortunate in every aspect of life, gets a perfect score of one, that too will be confined to a certain period and not throughout life. In GNH survey, not a single person among 7,142 interviewed achieved sufficiency in all 130 factors. GNH index’s change between 2010 and 2015 implies that the percentage of unhappy people has decreased slightly as they moved up to the category of narrowly happy people. Likewise the number of people in the category of narrowly happy people decreased slightly. The percentage of extensively happy people increased by a small margin. However the transition from extensively happy to the deeply happy category seems to be a steep climb. The percentage of deeply happy category has not increased between 2015 and 2010. In the 2010 GNH report, the percentage of people who were deeply happy and extensively happy was added into one subgroup: the subtotal was 40.9 percent of the population. Further, we created another subgroup called not-yet happy by adding up the percentage of narrowly happy and unhappy people. In 2010 GNH report, we called this subgroup not-yet-happy, but the phrase was not clear and got confused with unhappy people. This was the reason why we dropped the subcategory of not-yet happy people but the four categories are maintained as in 2010 report. Most media professionals could not distinguish the fine line between unhappy and not-yet-happy and began to write in a misleading way that 59.1 percent of the people were unhappy. So this year, to avoid confusion, we did not add up the subgroups, leaving just the four categories of the population by their respective degrees of happiness. When 2010 and 2015 GNH index results are compared, the percentage of people in the unhappy and narrowly happy group has decreased a little, and correspondingly the proportion of the people under extensively happy has increased by about 2 percent. But there is no increase in the percentage of deeply happy people. In the next survey, after a similar time interval, the percentage of people in higher happiness bracket could increase. Relatively high disruptive impact was a registered on GNH index of 2015, resulting from electioneering, negative emotions, deterioration in community relationships, and self-reported health status. The latter is purely subjective, unrelated to the actual number of healthy days. Healthy days number actually increased since 2010.
What is sufficiency how does it work?
The notion of sufficiency is a very common sense one. It is inherent in the key Bhutanese concepts of ‘tshamtshoed’ and ‘chogshay’ that point out some sense of threshold, equilibrium, and maximum limit one should have. If this notion of reasonable threshold and limit is breached, balance and poise can easily be lost. The concept of equilibrium threshold seems to be a valuable one. It is key to understanding the principle of sustainability, which can be defined as equilibrium between supply and demand of resources at any given point in time. It also seems to be key to the sufficiency philosophy of the revered King of Thailand. In GNH the idea of equilibrium, threshold and maximum limit have been made precise by defining sufficiency quantitatively for every factor or condition which composes his/her GNH level. A person is said to enjoy sufficiency in a factor if the defined sufficiency level is met or exceeded. If not, the person suffers from insufficiency and therefore that factor plays a negative role. The sufficiency threshold works like poverty line. People who have equal to or more than the income poverty line are classified as non-poor while people who have less than the income poverty line are classified poor. The income poverty line distinguishes people who do not have enough money from those who are non-poor. However, poverty line is comparable to a survival line. On the other hand, GNH is a not a minimal or survival threshold concept. GNH is a maximal concept and thus the defined sufficiency or maximum limit is set at an amount compatible with flourishing. A sufficiency level is a cutoff point. If a person has a factor that is above the level of defined sufficiency in GNH, this surplus does not enhance the person’s GNH because it is not taken into account by the aggregation method of GNH index. The diminishing return to the factor on a person’s happiness is assumed to come into effect at the point exceeding the sufficiency level. Thus the sufficiency level is in fact the maximal threshold. If, on the other hand, a person is below the sufficiency level, the index is very sensitive and registers it. Any movement towards the sufficiency line is registered as improvement in GNH index. It should be borne in mind that in the construction of GNH index, there are two steps. The first step is to apply the criteria of defined sufficiency level to every factor of a person to find out whether the person meets that defined sufficiency level or not. The second step is to find out how many conditions of factors of the total of 130 factors or conditions, the person enjoys in order for him to be assigned in one of the four categories of people by degrees of happiness.