Gross National Happiness strategy to boost economic output plus workforce productivity in Bhutan & Australia

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A delegation of 12 Bhutanese professionals visited Australia this month to learn more about workforce planning and strategy implementation, and to teach South Australians about their approach to economic stimulation through the lived experience of implementing a Gross National Happiness Index.

This blog will outline the nine core domains Bhutan uses as areas of development for achieving Gross National Happiness (GNH), and the comparison + benefits for South Australia.

Domains and Indicators

There are nine areas of GNH that Bhutan focuses on:

  1. Psychological Wellbeing
  2. Time Use
  3. Community Vitality
  4. Cultural Diversity
  5. Ecological Resilience
  6. Living Standards
  7. Health
  8. Education, and
  9. Good Governance

These are broken down into the following indicators and areas.

1.     Psychological Wellbeing

According to a GNH report, psychological wellbeing is an intrinsically valuable and desired state of being.  Psychological wellbeing is considered to incorporate a rating of overall life satisfaction, emotional balance of positive and negative emotions, and a person’s level of spirituality which is broken down into four ratings – a self-report of their level of spirituality; the frequency in which they consider karma; and level of engagement in both meditation and prayer.

2.     Use of time

Each person in the nation is administered with a simple time diary, to record how they spend their time.  This is to regulate work-life balance to ensure optimal wellbeing and resilience.  The balance between paid-work, unpaid-work, and leisure is highlighted as being an important factor to overall wellbeing levels.

Levels of sleep are also an important consideration and are also recorded in the diary.

3.     Community Vitality

The concept of GNH focuses on developing cooperative relationships and social networks within the community.  Indicators include the level of social support, community relationships, family and whether someone has been a victim of crime.  A strong sense of belonging is fostered through an emphasis on community vitality.

4.     Culture

The preservation and promotion of culture is considered a fundamental pillar in the GNH Index.

With the last country in the world to introduce television to the nation, Bhutan’s traditional culture and national values are still highly preserved, which State Government and regulation bodies believe is a big contributor to the nation’s high happiness levels.  They take serious consideration to the negative impacts modernisation could have on the GNH ratings.

Language – measured through fluency and knowledge of local tongue, level of artisan skills, societal participation, and ‘the way of harmony’ – a measurement of the level of appropriate behaviour in regards to clothing, moving and consumption of material goods, are all indicators of culture.

5.     Ecological Vitality & Resilience

Bhutan has always recognised the role of environmental factors in GNH.  Environmental awareness is tested through a range of questions, alongside gauges in pollution levels, environmental responsibility and wildlife in Bhutan.  Any urban issues and town planning is discussed openly and the local community have active say in the way urbanisation is approached.

6.     Living Standards

The living standards are measured based on the material wellbeing of people in Bhutan.  It ensures material needs on a basic level are met to see comfortable living.

A household income threshold (a poverty line) is measured to ensure sufficient income is being attained to enable an adequate level of living comfortability.  A household’s assets are also identified in the GNH Index measurements.

Agriculture is a prominent industry in Bhutan, and it is common for allotments of land to be a large asset that households have.  Housing quality is also taken into consideration in measuring the gross national standard for living circumstances.

7.     Health

The measurement of health is broken down into three indicators – ‘Healthy Days’ in which a respondent indicates the number of healthy days they have experienced over the course of a month (Bhutan’s national average is 26 days); permanent disability – an indicator that examines an individual’s ability to carry out functional activities daily; and mental health – an indicator that screens for possible depression, anxiety and other mental health issues; and confidence and concentration levels.

8.     Education

Bhutan focuses on a holistic approach to education, with a strong emphasis on nurturing creativity skills and expression.  Measurements are assessed on the level of literacy in individuals, educational qualifications, knowledge of cultural and global issues, and values – where indicators assess an individual’s sense of ‘right and wrong’.

9.     Good Governance

There are four main indicators involved in ensuring good governance across the country is being met.  These include fundamental rights, trust in institutions, performance of the governmental institutions and political participation.

Active involvement in political activities is encouraged, as well as ensuring ease of access to government bodies.  Other areas measured include service delivery, political freedom and government performance – an opportunity by the people to assess the performance by the government in 7 key areas.


Across the nine domains, each indicator is weighted evenly, demonstrating the emphasis placed on the holistic approach Bhutan takes to achieving gross national happiness.

According to ‘A Short Guide to GNH Index’, the report states there are many outcomes being produced from measuring GNH as a strategy towards achieving economic productivity on a national level.

“The index provides an overall picture of how GNH is distributed in Bhutan and can also be used to zoom in to look at who is happy and those that are ‘not yet happy’, and to zoom further to look at unhappy, narrowly happy, extensively happy, and deeply happy.”

So how can we implement workforce planning on a national scale through a GNH approach?  And how can Bhutan learn from the successful economic strategies being rolled out across rural areas of Australia?

Wendy Perry from Workforce BluePrint said Agriculture was hugely significant to the Bhutanese economy and the same could be said of regional Australia.

“Although we have extremely different economic models, with ours being more export driven and their economic model being more closed, we have striking similarities as well.”

South Australia has already outlined a Wellbeing and Resilience Strategy for 2015 and beyond to boost economic outcomes, which will be outlined in the next blog post.

Kinley Wangdi, the Director of the Ministry for Labour and Human Resources, and head of the delegation recorded this message for South Australia:

Some of the methodology from the Bhutanese GNH Index can be modelled to develop measured outcomes for the state to improve the wellbeing and happiness levels of individuals, particularly in unemployed populations across Australia.

If you would like to learn more about the GNH Index and how you can implement workforce development strategies in your region and community, contact Wendy at

May 2015

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