These are the world’s happiest countries and that’s how they’re going to overtake the richest ones

Carlos Carabaña

What is happiness? How can it be measured? In the case of money or the economy, there are dozens of indicators and definitions, and many people have dealt with these subjects, but when it comes to happiness things are more complicated. It’s curious that Bhutan, a small kingdom in the Himalayas with 700,000 inhabitants, should have given the world a measuring stick called Gross National Happiness.  

On 2 June 1974 Jigme Singye Wangchuck was crowned king of his country, at the time the newest nation in the world, and proclaimed that “gross national happiness is much more important than gross national product.” And so it was that this 18-year-old lad became the God King and established GNH over GNP.

The idea, which since then has marked public policy in this tiny kingdom, is that money is not the only important thing: we must seek other aspects like fair and sustainable development, the preservation and promotion of culture, the conservation of the environment, and good government. Society should not be judged as an economic elevator but by whether or not it offers a way of life that leads to the happiness  of its citizens.

A key factor may be the Buddhist religion, which believes that all beings pursue happiness, and another element is that Bhutan is like a blank paper because until the 1960s it was almost a medieval kingdom.

In 2008, Bhutan created a method to measure and quantify happiness. First, the authorities go to homes and ask 180 questions, grouped into categories like ‘Psychological wellbeing’, ‘Use of time’, ‘Culture’, ‘Environmental diversity’… There are questions about whether people spend a lot of time with their children or whether they experience a lot of stress at their job. Once the questions are answered, statistical calculations are made and people are assigned a value that allows them to compare their happiness with that of their fellow citizens.

Once that result has been obtained, comparisons are made between professions, regions, ages, etc. All this is used to determine public policies designed to make everyone as happy as possible. A good example: between 7.4% and 11.4% of all public spending goes to health services, great importance is given to primary care, and it is against the law to privatise healthcare. In addition, in 1988 a trust fund was created to guarantee people an uninterrupted supply of medicine and  vaccines.

Indeed, 2017 brought the first World Happiness Summit, which was held in Miami (Florida, USA) from 17 to 19 March, where for the first time in history the largest and wealthiest countries, the G-20, were not in attendance, only those in a symbolic Happy 20 (H-20). The organisers, the World Happiness Summit (WOHASU), state that 87% of the world’s people are not happy in their job. In the United States alone, more than 10 billion dollars are spent each year on anti-depressants and an equal amount on self-help books. For these reasons, most everything that derives from this summit of the small kingdom of happiness… is welcome!

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