|A mountain pass in Bhutan. Click for photo credit.|
· Economic wellness
· Environmental wellness
· Physical wellness
· Mental wellness
· Workplace wellness
· Social wellness
· Political wellness
Each of these themes has quantitative and qualitative indicators that assess national happiness. Since the 1970's this index has gotten quite a bit of attention as an alternative to more economic assessments of national health such as gross domestic product. Who doesn't want to assess a country using happiness as a guide?
Many have advocated for this form of national assessment of progress since economic indicators do not really explain the overall happiness of the people. Or do they?
Bhutan is backtracking on the overall usefulness of the happiness index as a form of national assessment at a time when many other countries are incorporating a happiness or wellbeing index as a way to gauge their nation. Just take a look at what Canada has done here in their Index of Wellbeing. Many other countries have done the same thing. Take a look at the U.N. rankings of happiness here. Venezuela, a distinctly unhappy country at the moment, was rated as the happiest in South America using the U.N.'s index.
Obviously something is wrong with an index that rates a country as the happiest in a continent when the Human Rights Watch produces a 103 page document outlining widespread human rights violations--particularly against students and political dissenters. Venezuela's oppressive government has lauded their ranking as a form of success at the same time that they are imprisoning political opposition leaders. Venezuela even appointed a Happiness Minister at a time when there were food lines and shortages of basic medicines, milk, and toilet paper.
Bhutan's new leader, according to this New York Times report is largely abandoning their signature happiness index and is seeking to find more quantitative goals such as debt reduction and unemployment.
Obviously the happiness indices that are used can be helpful tools in some circumstances. However, happiness as a means of assessing overall national progress may be a bit too dreamy in reality.