02 Oct 2012

Bhutan’s concept of Gross National Happiness Index was presented to the Young Global Leaders of the World Economic Forum at a recent session held in Singapore.

Can happiness be calibrated and incorporated as a policy driver with distinct processes to reach a desired outcome?

Bhutan’s concept of Gross National Happiness Index was presented to the Young Global Leaders of the World Economic Forum at a recent session held in Singapore. Participants were challenged to consider how their organisations might be the catalysts to incorporate the GNH Index as their employee happiness barometer.

The Fourth King of Bhutan first conceived of an index of Gross National Happiness when he ascended the throne in 1972. He deemed it critical that Bhutan’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) goals include the happiness of the collective society and that physical, emotional, spiritual and cultural well-being had to be considered alongside material well being. Over time, the four key pillars of gross national happiness—Sustainable & Equitable Socio-Economic Development, Preservation of Culture, Conservation of Environment, and Good Governance—have evolved into nine domains for deeper consideration and more precise ways of development:

  • living standards
  • health
  • psychological well being
  • education
  • time use
  • community vitality
  • cultural diversity and resilience
  • ecological diversity and resilience; and
  • good governance

Policies defined and programmes identified now seek to measure the indicators within the nine domains to evaluate if the actions support the GNH values defined.

Few might have expected that four decades later, this concept of measuring happiness has spread around the world. While the reactions by the young leaders at the forum were diverse, from a willingness to hear of the GNH concept, to rejection, it remains remarkable that happiness can now be debated seriously as a policy driver at the highest levels.

As a start, some participants expressed their resistance to the word “happiness” and how it can be defined. I recall a TED talk— where individuals spread ideas in 18 minutes or less—where Matthieu Ricard, the French molecular biologist-turned-monk, said, “Happiness is a dirty word for us French.”

This begs the question, “Why do organisations shudder at the word, happiness?” Do organisations fear that a happy employee may be too distracted to be a productive employee? Do organisations fear that happiness might negatively impact their brand? Is happiness too subjective a value to be measured and calibrated into policies? Yet, post-Great Financial Crisis, one would be hard put to argue that individual and collective well-being can be sacrificed on the altar of key performance indices.

Most in the audience considered the BSC (Balanced Scorecard), a widely-accepted strategic planning and performance management framework, more tangible that the GNH. If an organisation were to measure its Gross National Happiness in the context of the BSC, what would be the Four Pillars and Nine Domains within the BSC?

Is it time to add an additional component to the Balanced Scorecard as a means of measuring happiness and defining actions and values to support it? And if Financials and Customers are the outcomes, then which drivers within the Processes and Capabilities Lens could incorporate the Happiness Index? Could an Organisational Happiness Index fit in as an internal process measuring employee engagement and capability?

Organisations can be the catalysts to explore the GNH Index by adapting it within the Balanced Scorecard, creating the framework for leaders at every level to be assessed on their role within the Employee Happiness Index. Vineet Nayar, CEO of HCL, India’s leading IT and Technology company says, “Employees first, customers second.” His 360-feedback process, where employees assess their superiors, not just the other way around as is conventionally the case, is available to all its 90,000 employees.

If all countries had GDP and the GNH Index as a means of measuring its leaders, what would election debates look like? How would potential leaders woo voters?

In the words of the Fifth King of Bhutan, “Today, GNH has come to mean so many things to so many people but to me it signifies simply development guided by human values.”

Bhutan sees its role as “providing the canvas for Individuals and Organisations to paint their own and their communities’ picture of happiness”. The challenge is finding the right tools to translate vision to reality, and to devise processes and policies to achieve the desired and defined outcome.

Khatiza Van Savage is the Founder and Chief Happiness Architect of Insightful Learning Journeys in Bhutan. As a social enterprise, 10 percent of net proceeds are directed towards outreach programmes selected by the peer group with the intent of creating Communities of Practice to Multiply Happiness. Her email is