| 16 January, 2008 - Bhutan is as determined as ever to create a happy society. The journey to Gross National Happiness moved forward this week with the preliminary findings of rare GNH indicators that are expected to help develop a GNH vision.
The pilot survey by the Centre for Bhutan Studies finds that Bhutanese people rate income, family, health, spirituality, and good governance as their most urgent requirements to be happy. A majority of 66 percent felt that income was the most important.
Today, 56.3 percent of the respondents, mostly youth, are optimistic about the future and 72.8 percent have a strong sense of belonging in society. About 60 percent of the population are spiritual and pray often and 35 percent understand compassion.
Men are happier than women, the educated happier than the illiterate, and larger families happier than smaller families.
Bhutanese people are also getting increasingly stressed, the main causes being the concern for the future of their children, their financial state, and illness. More than 19 percent suffer a high level of stress.
Meanwhile, 13 percent of people are often angry, 17.4 percent say they have poor health, 16.6 percent suffer from disabilities, and 31.7 percent feel that they are poor with the average annual income for a family of five or more estimated at Nu 92,000.
The burden of work is felt more by women, especially rural women, and women with young children get the least sleep. Bhutanese people, on average, sleep about eight hours a day and 77.2 percent, mostly men, consume alcohol with about 20 percent drinking daily.
Concern about wealth is on the increase and 47.7 percent emphasise that wealth is important. Peoples trust in each other is as low as 25.1 percent and 70.6 percent are careful when dealing with other people, while 61 percent believe that selfishness and generosity are both increasing.
People, who are less educated, are more satisfied with goods and services.
This data comes from extensive interviews with 350 people between October 2006 and January 2007. The data collectors spent two days with each person, asking questions on subjective well being, health education, income, community environment, time use, and governance.
CBSs director, Dasho Karma Ura, said that this data will be updated by April 2008, after the centre completes interviews with more than 1,000 people.
Dasho Karma Ura presented the data to about 25 senior bureaucrats and civil servants, who sat informally around a bukhari on January 14 and 15 to discuss a vision for Gross National Happiness.
The indicators, according to Dasho Karma Ura, were being developed to reflect GNH values, determine GNH policies, and track GNH progress.
Specifically, they would guide GNH-oriented allocation of public resources, maintain GNH as a public discourse, provide baselines and yardsticks of performance of local and national bodies, and encourage pro well being behaviour among citizens.
The purpose of this weeks meeting, which had no formal agenda, was to share views in a GNH perspective to work towards a clear vision, that will help government planners draw up policies and strategies to lead to GNH, which was both the path and goal for Bhutans development.
In the course of discussions, the officials brought up many problems that need to be overcome to ensure the well being of citizens. For example, there was the irony of Bhutanese breathing more polluted air in a country that enjoyed the most pristine environment, leading to new health problems. Bhutanese towns had many bars on every street but no libraries and parks.
Society was seeing a strong trend towards materialistic values as villages were becoming empty, farm products were reducing, and a majority of the people now lived in two rooms. Basic food is becoming more expensive and the country is importing more.
In the 10th plan period, 43,000 students will not go to college and more than 5,000 graduates will be looking for jobs.
As Bhutanese society seeks the wisdom to tackle these and many other problems, the officials agreed that there had to be basic changes in their own thinking. For example, they had to overcome the reluctance to share information and data and get over the territorial hang-ups among themselves.
The GNH discourse had to be taken to the decision-makers and to the people. Among the initiatives being taken to understand Bhutans development through the GNH lens, the group was informed that the planning commission will now be called the GNH commission.
By Kinley Dorji