A few years ago, Jonathan Harris did a project in Bhutan about “Gross National Happiness”, Bhutan’s much saner alternative to “Gross National Product”. He has recently created a website to house that experiment.
It involved handing out balloons to 117 people, talking to them about happiness, asking them to make a wish, and then stringing up the wishes in a mountain pass.
The term “gross national happiness” was coined in 1972 by then Bhutan‘s King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who opened Bhutan to the age of modernization, soon after the demise of his father, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk. He used the phrase to signal his commitment to building an economy that would serve Bhutan’s unique culture based on Buddhist spiritual values.
At first offered as a casual, offhand remark, the concept was taken seriously, as the Centre for Bhutan Studies, under the leadership of Karma Ura, developed a sophisticated survey instrument to measure the population’s general level of well-being. The Canadian health epidemiologist Michael Pennock had a major role in the design of the instrument, and uses (what he calls) a “de-Bhutanized” version of the survey in his work in Victoria, British Columbia. Ura and Pennock have also collaborated on the development of policy screening tools which can be used to examine the potential impacts of projects or programs on GNH.