The small Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is known internationally for two things: high visa fees, which reduce the influx of tourists, and its policy of promoting “gross national happiness” instead of economic growth. The two are related: more tourists might boost the economy, but they would damage Bhutan’s environment and culture, and so reduce happiness in the long run.
Can we learn how to measure happiness? The Center for Bhutan Studies, set up by the Bhutanese government 12 years ago, is currently processing the results of interviews with more than 8,000 Bhutanese. The interviews recorded both subjective factors, such as how satisfied respondents are with their lives, and objective factors, like standard of living, health, and education, as well as participation in culture, community vitality, ecological health, and the balance between work and other activities. It remains to be seen whether such diverse factors correlate well with each other. Trying to reduce them to a single number will require some difficult value judgments.