Almost every country in the world is a bit obsessed with a thing called GDP or Gross Domestic Product. Why? I’ll discuss GDP and an alternative measurement system, Gross National Happiness (GNH).
What is GDP?
GDP is an indicator, or measurement tool for economics. It allows people to see the growth of a country’s production and consumption by measuring the total number of things produced, purchased and the wages paid within a nation’s borders.
In our scientific age, we always demand evidence for everything. This is why indicators are so important. We want evidence that a nation is successful or not, developing or not. That’s what GDP is used for.
So if you have an increasing GDP, it means you’re a success, right? Well, technically you’re an economic success. But oftentimes economic success comes at the expense of many other things like the environment. Or perhaps your economy is doing well, but people are still uneducated, have a low standard of living, and poor health conditions. What is real success then? How can we measure a more holistic success? What are more holistic indicators for measurement?
Gross National Happiness as an alternative
GNH, or Gross National Happiness is one alternative among some others. It was the first alternative indicator I came across and I think it’s on to a wonderful idea.
Bhutan, a small Buddhist country in the Himalayas few people of heard of, is the pioneer of GNH. In the 1970s, king of Bhutan told the world he didn’t understand the world’s obsession with GDP, GDP. He said the most important thing to him was the happiness of the people in his kingdom. He argued that we ought to measure Gross National Happiness to determine a nation’s success, not GDP.
With the idea posed, for many years, Bhutan set out to measure happiness. They conducted a pretty well organized system of research and developed 9 fields of happiness to measure. These include Psychological Wellbeing, Standard of Living , Good Governance, Health, Education, Community Vitality, Time Use, Cultural Resilience, and Community Vitality. What you measure becomes what you’re focusing on improving. By focusing on things other than just economic development via GDP, the Bhutanese are able to have a more holistic system to determine if the government’s policies are successful or not.
There is a small movement growing about using different “indicators” to measure progress, realizing the limitations of focusing solely on GDP. I think this is a really positive movement that could change the way politicians decide policies, hopefully in a more holistic way. What are your thoughts on this?