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FEATURE STORY

Bolivia and Bhutan: Learning to measure happiness

May 6, 2014

Researchers, economists, statisticians and even shamans explained, gave opinions and exchanged ideas during the Dragon and Condor Meeting, an international event celebrated in Bolivia to evaluate the Live Well-Good Living-Happiness initiative.

Bhutan, Ecuador, Mexico and Bolivia exchanged south-south experiences on indicators of wellbeing.

Measuring happiness is not a new experience for Bhutan, a nation of 700,000 inhabitants located between China and India. Bhutan hopes to become the world’s first agricultural country with 100 percent organic production.

 “The happiness of inhabitants is the highest constitutional value in Bhutan. The idea came about in the 1970s when our fourth King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, said that the Gross National Happiness Index (GNH) is more important than the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) because if the government cannot create happiness, it has no purpose,” said Bhutanese statistician Tshoki Zangmo.

That is an experience that Bhutan wanted to share with representatives of Mexico, Ecuador and Bolivia.

Researchers, economists, statisticians and even shamans explained, gave opinions and exchanged ideas during the Dragon and Condor Meeting, an international event celebrated in Bolivia to evaluate the Living Well-Good Living-Happiness initiative. The main consensus: objective economic indicators such as income, housing, services and others are insufficient for measuring the wellbeing of the population.

Following a visit to the ruins of Tiwanaku, an ancient sanctuary and symbol of the ancestral knowledge of the Andean culture along the shores of Lake Titicaca, the delegations agreed that neither Mother Nature nor cultural traditions can be ignored, especially since the negative effects of traditional development models are becoming apparent.

 “A few days ago, Felipe, the condor who was rescued in poor condition, was found shot dead in Ecuador. This is an endangered species in Andean countries, where our glaciers are also melting. Every 13 minutes, someone in the world dies of hunger; that’s unfair. We are also unhappy. We are doing something wrong,” said Ecuadorean delegate Pablo Barriga.

The Bolivian minister of Planning, Vivian Caro, said that “south-south cooperation is very important for  Bolivia’s international relations; it enables the joint construction of what we propose as societies.”

 “This will be a challenge for Living Well, which is our philosophical base. We have to incorporate multidimensional tools in our poverty indicators. These should include collective aspects and harmony with nature,” Caro added.

Living Well takes nature into account and is based on the recovery of traditional values:  Ama suwa, Ama llulla, Ama qhilla, which in Quechua, a native language of the Andean region, means do not steal, do not lie and do not be lazy. The initiative’s main characteristics have to do with respect for life, flowing with and applying the laws of nature, valuing diversity and pluri-national co-existence and attempting to achieve harmony among thinking, feeling and acting, among others.

 “Living Well is applied using indicators that are being developed and that will measure aspects of life that are not taken into account. For example: What do Bolivians do after work? What aspirations do they have? What is their spiritual context like?, etc.,” said Marcelo Zaiduni, one of the organizers of the meeting and an advisor to Bolivia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Open Quotes

The happiness of inhabitants is the highest constitutional value in Bhutan. The idea came about in the 1970s when our fourth King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, said that the Gross National Happiness Index (GNH) is more important than the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) because if the government cannot create happiness, it has no purpose. Close Quotes

Tshoki Zangmo
Bhutanese statistician

Happiness in Bhutan in indicators and figures

The increasingly concrete idea of measuring happiness in Bhutan began with a series of discussions between the government and civil society based on the shared belief that a Gross National Happiness Index was indispensable for guiding national conscience and also for remembering that the human dimension should never be ignored.

 “The development of the GNH index began with three surveys given to national, regional and sectoral leaders, but also to the general public, which were carried out between 2006 and 2010. Based on the results, a multidimensional tool was developed for measuring wellbeing with 33 indicators in nine areas. For example: an indicator for satisfaction in life in the psychological wellbeing area or an indicator of skill for speaking a native language in the cultural diversity area, or an indicator on income for the standard of living indicator,” said Bhutanese researcher Karma Wangdi.

Happiness indicators of Bhutan have different weights depending on their importance. There are also monitoring tools to ensure that the results are taken into account in public policymaking.

In Mexico, for example, a multidimensional tool for measuring poverty is being applied that includes indicators associated with economic wellbeing such as income or basic services; however, community and territorial indicators will also be included, which encompass cultural characteristics.

The World Bank Resident Representative in Bolivia, Faris Hadad-Zervos, said: “Experiences throughout the world demonstrate that the increase in GDP is necessary but insufficient for economic development. Other variables are needed, such as cultural ones, those of self-realization, equality and opportunity. At this event, [participants] have identified common indicators among countries. At the World Bank, we have learned much from our partners.”

The Bolivian proposal will be made public on June 21, during the Winter Solstice, following a meeting in La Paz of officials from Bhutan, Mexico, Ecuador, Venezuela and Uruguay.