The unhappy 9 percent

GNH: Women, farmers, and the elderly comprise the majority of those unhappy in Bhutan.

This was revealed in the provisional findings of the 2015 GNH survey. The survey found that while the majority of Bhutanese can be categorized as happy, as per the GNH index, almost nine percent of the population fall in the unhappy group.

The GNH index considers someone happy when they meet sufficiency in six of the nine domains (see box 1) of the GNH index. Statistically this is defined as being sufficient in 66 percent of the 33 weighted indicators within the domains. Each domain has around four indicators.

Anything lower than 66 percent and you fall into the “narrowly happy” group. A lower than 50 percent sufficiency means you are unhappy.

The survey found 47.87 percent of the population being narrowly happy and 8.75 percent as unhappy. A total of 614 of 7,153 respondents were found to be unhappy.

The survey besides showing that the unhappy group comprises mostly of farmers, the elderly, and women, also revealed the factors that contribute to their unhappiness (see box 2).

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box2

Deficiencies in their knowledge, schooling, and low levels of literacy were factors for their unhappiness.

The knowledge indicator is determined by looking at the respondent’s level of literacy, and knowledge on local culture and tradition, the Constitution and on how HIV/AIDS is transmitted.

Additionally, spirituality, education, and perception of the government’s performance were the three lowest contributors to this year’s GNH score.

However, the low contribution of education was attributed to a largely unchangeable phenomenon. “The reason for education domain contributing to the GNH unhappiness is because of the backlog of elderly people who have no educational attainment,” Centre for Bhutan Studies President, Dasho Karma Ura said.

Calculating spirituality relates to regularity of prayer recitation and meditation, and the consideration of “karma” in daily life. It was found that only 39 percent of the population enjoyed sufficiency in spirituality, as a result of a very small fraction of people or 7.5 percent of the population, meditating once a day or more despite Bhutan being a predominantly Buddhist country.

The government’s performance relates to the opinion of the respondent on job creations, reducing the gap between the rich and poor, corruption, preservation of culture and tradition, protection of the environment, provision of educational needs, and improving health services.

However, in the provisional report, it is pointed out that the low perception of the government’s performance could be caused by party loyalty or partisan politics because the low rating does not correspond with the high percentage of respondents enjoying sufficiency in government services.

The unhappy also lack sufficiency in other areas like household per capita income, self-reported health, and housing.

Dasho Karma Ura, said that the unhappy score low when it comes to the education, psychological wellbeing, good governance, and living standard domains.

Geographically, most of the unhappy are located in the rural areas. A higher proportion of people living in the dzongkhags of Trongsa and Dagana were found unhappy. But Chukha, Samtse, Thimphu and Trashigang were home to the maximum number of unhappy people. The four dzongkhags have 41.5 percent of the 614 unhappy respondents.

The north western parts of the country have higher GNH while the south eastern ones had lower GNH, according to the provisional report.

The report also interestingly observes that some of the dzongkhags like Lhuntse, Tsirang, Pemagatshel, and Haa, that ranked low in household income, still enjoyed a comparatively high GNH.

On whether being unhappy according to the GNH index could still mean that the person is subjectively happy, Dasho Karma Ura explained that the two should not be confused as they are measured differently. To be considered GNH happy, a variety of factors or conditions are considered necessary, while subjective happiness is considered from a single self-report, and based on feelings and perceptions of contentment or joy of the person at a particular point in time, he explained.

For instance, Dasho pointed out how it was extremely puzzling to find the three dzongkhags of Dagana, Tsirang, and Mongar, rating high in subjective happiness, despite ranking very low in annual household income.

It was also pointed out that a comparison of the GNH and subjective happiness levels did not correspond. While 16.5 percent of the population was found deeply subjectively happy, only 8.4 percent were as per the GNH index. In addition, almost 60 percent were extensively subjectively happy compared to almost 40 percent as per the GNH index.

While the GNH index found 8.8 percent of the population unhappy, based on subjective happiness, only one percent are unhappy.

“Therefore, it is quite clear that GNH index is more stringent than subjective happiness criterion,” Dasho Karma Ura said. He pointed out that there are underlying dimensions and processes through which happiness in GNH arises, and that GNH happiness is vulnerable whenever these factors or conditions are reduced.

Gyalsten K Dorji

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