Gross National Happiness Measures Quality Of Life

The tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has pledged to manage its nation's well-being by measuring Gross National Happiness, rather than the more popular gauge Gross Domestic Product. In Vermont, a global gathering of proponents of this alternative scale gathered to discuss GNH and how to adapt it for Western use.

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In another economic story: Every quarter, we get the latest figures for the gross domestic product, or GDP. It's a measure that's been widely used to gauge the economy since World War II. There's a growing movement by economists to consider other factors - for example, happiness. People gathered recently in Burlington, Vermont, to talk about it, and Lisa Napoli has this report.

LISA NAPOLI: Chris Wood came to Vermont 40 years ago as part of the hippie movement. Now, he's helped gather 200 people, old and young, from across the state and from as far away as South Africa and Bangladesh, to help launch a new movement.

Mr. CHRIS WOOD: We're about to drop off a very scary cliff that's never been experienced in this planet, and it's very urgent that things become very different.

NAPOLI: This group hopes to make things different by introducing an idea called Gross National Happiness. The philosophy comes from the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, which long ago pledged not to let Gross Domestic Product overshadow its Buddhist ideals. Bhutan's aptly named official secretary of happiness is Karma Tshiteem. He came to Vermont to explain that there's more to GNH than a quaint, catchy slogan.

Mr. KARMA TSHITEEM (Secretary of Happiness, Bhutan): From a government policy-making perspective, we are more focused on creating the right conditions that can lead people to fulfilling and hopefully, happy lives.

NAPOLI: Just how to do that, and how to gauge success, has been keeping Bhutan's leaders busy over the last few years. Karma Tshiteem says they've come up with nine key indicators.

Mr. TSHITEEM: Psychological well-being, community vitality, cultural diversity, time use, good governance, health, education, ecology, and living standards.

NAPOLI: Here in Vermont, the hope was to convince people that considering those indicators is equally as important as measuring GDP. GDP soars when money changes hands, particularly in a crisis. But it doesn't factor in anything without a dollar amount attached, like the time we spend at home with family, or volunteering. Professor Eric Zencey, of Empire State College, said quality of life shouldn't get back-burnered.

Professor ERIC ZENCY (Empire State College): Imagine a set of indicators that included questions like: How many meals a week do you eat with family or friends? Or even: How many times last week did you do something at work that you're proud of? If what we want is improved lives, let's measure that.

NAPOLI: Zencey says Bhutan isn't the only place disenchanted with GDP. He points to a study commissioned by the French president last fall to find alternatives, and to the state of Maryland, which in February adopted an indicator that factors in social well-being along with economic growth.

Dahlia Colman trains youth around the world about the difference between GDP and GNH. She says she knows some people consider happiness to be a goal that's fluffy.

Ms. DAHLIA COLMAN: Maybe that's a mistake. I mean, though it's a subjective emotional state in some senses, there are definitely conditions that contribute to a better sense of well-being - such as low crime, healthy environment, community vitality.

(Soundbite of applause and cheers)

NAPOLI: After a day of training, most participants seemed to consider themselves ambassadors of Gross National Happiness. And like the hippie movement before them, they gathered in a circle to close the day with a gigantic hug.

From Burlington, Vermont, I'm Lisa Napoli.

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