The other day, I met a gentleman in Phoenix, Arizona (USA), who introduced himself as a Bhutanese Refugee. And he told me that there are a large number of Bhutanese refugees, located in different parts of USA.

Bhutanese Refugees; in large numbers? The dots apparently did not connect.
I distinctly remembered, in the first World Happiness Report (WHR), 2012, it was stated that Bhutan has been the pioneer of Gross National Happiness (GNH). “The Bhutan case study tells the story of GNH in Bhutan, a story of exploration and progress since the King declared in 1972 the goal of happiness over the goal of wealth.”

The first WHR (2012) had opened with the remarks that “We live in an age of stark contradictions… These contradictions would not come as a shock to the greatest sages of humanity, including Aristotle and the Buddha. The sages taught humanity, time and again, that material gain alone will not fulfill our deepest needs. Material life must be harnessed to meet these human needs, most importantly to promote the end of suffering, social justice, and the attainment of happiness. The challenge is real for all parts of the world.”

The first WHR (2012) had also listed up a set of causes of happiness and misery. It had stated that “based on 30 years of research on the topic, both external and personal features determine well-being. Some of the important external factors include income, work, community and governance, and values and religion. More “personal” factors include mental and physical health, family experience, education, gender, and age. Many of these factors have a two-way interaction with happiness – physical health may improve happiness, while happiness improves physical health. An analysis of all these factors strikingly shows that while absolute income is important in poor countries, in richer countries comparative income is probably the most important. Many other variables have a more powerful effect on happiness, including social trust, quality of work, and freedom of choice and political participation.”

To justify the use of its method of measurement of happiness, the first WHR (2012) had further added that “A generation of studies by psychologists, economists, pollsters, sociologists, and others has shown that happiness, though indeed a subjective experience, can be objectively measured, assessed, correlated with observable brain functions, and related to the characteristics of an individual and the society. Asking people whether they are happy, or satisfied with their lives, offers important information about the society. It can signal underlying crises or hidden strengths. It can suggest the need for change.”

What change happened to Bhutan?

In World Happiness Report, 2020, you would see Bhutan completely missing from the list of 184 countries. In the World Happiness Report, 2019, Bhutan was listed up at # 95.
The WHR (2020), compared with WHR (2012), is voluminous (more pages) and granular (covers cities, in addition to Countries).

Do you know the happiest Country in the world? As per World Happiness Report, 2020, it is Finland. Which is the happiest city in the world? It is Helsinki in Finland.
Do you know the least happy country in the world? As per World Happiness Report, 2020, it is Afghanistan. Which is the least happy city in the world? It is Kabul in Afghanistan.

How is Happiness Measured?

The Cantril Ladder is the measure of happiness used in World Happiness Report. The Cantril Ladder, that is also known as The Cantril Self-Anchoring Scale, consists of the following:

  1. Please imagine a ladder with steps numbered from zero at the bottom to 10 at the top.
  2. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you.
  3. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time? (ladder-present)
  4. On which step do you think you will stand about five years from now? (ladder-future)

In simple words, it is the measure by which the respondent evaluates himself or herself on 10 point scale; 0 for completely unhappy and 10 for completely happy.

As per World Happiness Report, 2020, the person who evaluated himself/herself happiest in Finland (and thus in the World) recorded 7.8/ 10. The person who evaluated himself/ herself least happy in Afghanistan (and thus in the World) recorded 2.57/10. The measure is, obviously, subjective and episodic. It is like asking Joe in the street, how happy are you now and how happy will you be in the future (5 years from now)?

The WHR includes a number of objective correlates of subjective happiness, namely, Logged GDP per capita, Social support, Healthy life expectancy, Freedom to make life choices, Generosity, Perceptions of corruption, Ladder score in Dystopia (Dictionary meaning: an imagined state or society where there is great suffering or injustice. That is the opposite of Utopia).

The WHR 2020 emphasizes that “In our ranking of cities’ happiness around the world, we first look at current life evaluation – an evaluative measure of subjective well-being and our main outcome – and then contrast our findings with those on expected future life evaluation of cities’ inhabitants. We also compare our findings with those on positive and negative affect on a day-to-day basis, which are experiential measure.”

The Outcome: 2012-2020

The Pioneer (Bhutan) is nowhere there in the 2020 World Happiness Report. From 2012 to 2020, the funding for happiness research has substantially increased. Many top business schools are running highly subscribed Happiness courses. New happiness consultants are emerging by the day. Happiness is the new game in the town. It looks the ‘business of happiness’ is doing very well.

Now World Happiness Reports for 2021 and 2022 are in the making. It is no brainer, COVID-19 will push the numbers down. Protecting jobs, putting cash in the hands of households to shore up consumption, and providing easy credit and grants to small businesses to help keep their doors open will help Gross National Product (GNP), possibly GNH also. And that is fine. In terms of length of lines outside immigration offices of various counties, USA is number one. It is not number one in GNH, but in GNP. Does GNP score over GNH?

There have been seers and sages who have gone much before those mentioned by name in these reports, who taught the formula of ‘HAPPINESS WITHOUT PROPS’. Well, that is for another time.

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Hemant Shrivastava
Hemant Shrivastava
3 years ago

Succinct article: with clarity and brevity it has given a bird’s eyeview of the concept and measurement metrics. However it should have explained why Bhutan has slipped.