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The Economics Journal > Strategy >

Gross National Happiness / Well-being (GNH / GNW) - A Policy White Paper

Economics Journal > Strategy > Happiness Economics >

The American Pursuit of Unhappiness
Policy White Paper
Gross National Happiness & Well-being Index
GNH / GNW Index
A
New Socioeconomic Development Policy Framework

Updated Policy Paper: June 10, 2018 (See updates and corrections section)
Consulting Paper: December 20, 2016 (Cameroon Government)
Happiness Consortium
Paper: Feb 27, 2007 (European Commission Project)
Final Paper: December 18, 2006  (addition of statistics from NEF study)
Draft Policy White Paper: V1.1 Jan 15, 2006
Working Paper V1.0 Jan 4, 2005

Executive Summary

The most important statement of the U.S. political philosophy is that of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. It states:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."

Are current government policies making us happier or more stressed? 

This white paper provides an analysis of the mental and emotional health liabilities produced by the current socioeconomic system. It also proposes several policy reforms to help address these liabilities. The paper summarizes the study in three sections: 1. Statement of the problem; 2. Root cause analysis; 3. Recommendations.

Note: While this white paper is written for the United States government, the analysis and recommendations are applicable to many other countries.

1. Statement of the Problem:

Why choose happiness as a subject for economic research?

Mental and emotional well-being of citizens improves their performance and broadens the intellectual, physical and social resources of a nation. Our research has found that happy people have better health habits, lower blood pressure, stronger immune systems and higher endurance levels. They cause less stress on the national healthcare system. Citizens with better emotional and mental health are easier to relate to and work with, tend to be better decision makers, are more creative, and outperform peers in problem-solving, innovation, persistence and productivity.

The current American socioeconomic system does not help the mental and emotional health of its citizens. According to the following independent research studies:

The University of Michigan's World Values Surveys (WVS) of 2004, ranks America at number 15 in population happiness.

The New Economics Foundation (NEF) study of 2006, uncovered a different world order where USA ranks at the 150th place.

Regardless of what one thinks of various studies, and of their ranking criteria, when it comes to happiness and mental well-being, the world’s richest country (by GDP) does not make it into the top ten and further studies suggest that it’s getting worse.

Let's revisit the first question.

Are current government policies making us happier or more stressed?

  • How many Americans are taking antidepressants or using alcohol or other forms of addictions as a way to cope with the pressures of the current socioeconomic system? Is the number declining or on the rise?
  • How many people have lifestyles that are causing severe pressure on their psychological, emotional and relationship health?
  • How many people suffer from chronic workplace stress, anxiety, low self-esteem, or some form of depression?
  • Are the rates of social conflicts or sources of stress such as divorce, crime and lawsuits declining or on the rise?

According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, the rates of depression across almost all demographic groups have risen in the United States over the past 10 years, with major depression rising from 3.33 percent of U.S. adults in 1991-1992 to 7.06 percent in 2001-2002: In other words, it has more than doubled. There are no available studies for 2005, but from our own research indicators, it appears that it is getting worse. Doctors are now prescribing antidepressants to children and adolescents more than ever. 

Depressed or not, if you live in America, you are probably burdened with more stress than previous generations (and other countries)

2. Root Cause Analysis

The ideologies and governments of this century that promised happiness, have left people with more material possessions, but less psychological well-being. Many in our society are emotionally bankrupt and unhappy. The demands of life in our current socioeconomic system require that we keep running and running with little or no breaks.

With increasing life costs, rising taxes, economic demands, and social and work pressures, far too many people are suffering from chronic stress, anxiety or anger. The term "rat race" applies more today than ever. Many people eventually experience this high-pressure lifestyle as burnout, exhaustion and/or depression. Many Americans are feeling unhappy at home and at work.

Our research shows that current studies under-report the number of people who suffer from frequent states of anxiety, depression, or stress. When asked, the surveyed subjects think that prolonged or frequent high-levels of social, work or economic stress are normal. Yet, they desire much more happiness in life. They simply, gave up on "happiness" and settled for "survival". But, it does not have to be this way.

To be objective, it is not entirely the fault of the government. More has changed in the last decade technologically, culturally, politically and economically than the entire past century. The degree and speed of change has posed enormous challenges for countries, organizations and their people.

We are all feeling the influence of these changes, whether it’s the global competition, social re-engineering, political and military conflicts, outsourcing or power shifts. Unprecedented globalization initiatives exert an enormous pressure on the psyche of the average individual and family. In many areas, those changes enriched people's lives, and in some areas, they robbed people of their lifetime investments, whether it’s a retirement account, career or a long-term relationship. And in some cases, those changes literally stole their souls and their future. (Scientists: please forgive the use of colorful words)

To make things even more complex, most of today’s young professionals are entering this changing world under-educated and under-equipped to manage their own lives. While fluent in science, business or arts, they lack critical-thinking competency and life-management skills such as self-awareness (psychological and emotional), relationship management (communications and people skills) and social awareness (their social contract, rights and duties). Like their parents, most of the young professionals will drift through life racing for the "American Dream", going through very expensive trial-and-error lessons and struggling to achieve happiness and fulfillment. 

3. Recommendations

This section of the paper provides a list of strategic recommendations proposed by the International Institute of Management to increase America’s Gross National Happiness (GNH). The recommendations address six main public policy areas: Government, Economics, Work, Media, Education and Environment.

A) Government

The role of government should shift from managing economic growth to socioeconomic development. American public policy should shift its focus from:

  • The standard of living to the quality of life
  • Material possessions to well-being (physical, mental, and material)
  • Unsustainable economic development to sustainable environmental development
  • Consumerism to investment
  • Economic-driven education to socioeconomic-driven education

The government can also make substantial improvements by implementing the following recommendations:

  • Simplify people’s lives through reformed civil laws and taxes.
  • Establish new tax and budget policies in line with public mental, emotional and physical wellness goals. For example, provide funding for the promotion of positive psychology and cultural education in schools, workplaces and public media.
  • Shift policy priority from waging wars (a major source of socioeconomic stress and long-term liability) to local socioeconomic development and foreign collaboration.

It is important to note that the success or failure of any new initiative is dependent on the sponsorship of the power centers within the socioeconomic system. The public must drive Congress to provide additional reforms to ensure honest representation by elected officials and by instituting controls on the abuse of power such as the promotion of private interests on the expense of public good, which is also a major source of socioeconomic stress.


B) Economics

In 1972, Bhutan's King Jigme Wangchuck coined the term Gross National Happiness (GNH) (in a casual remark in a public policy conference) to emphasize the holistic values of his government policies and Buddhist spiritual values.  (Note: the preceding statement is erroneous. Please see the "updates and corrections" section; Q3)

While there has been no independent study to validate the success of Bhutan’s national policies, Wangchuck correctly asserts that economic growth does not necessarily lead to contentment. His philosophy is to focus instead on the following four pillars:

  • Economic self-reliance,
  • A pristine environment,
  • The promotion of culture, and
  • Good governance  

In the past 30 years, Bhutan saw ad hoc policy initiatives, but without a specific measurement framework or metric. Regardless of the King’s future success in formulating and executing his national policies, the concept remains an admirable way to look at modern policy making. (Note: please see the "corrections" section; [Q3 and Q16] The origin of the GNH phrase and the human rights violation as a result of Bhutan's GNH pillars of "culture preservation" and "good" governance).

A new integrated qualitative and quantitative approach is needed  to assist in the creation of a new socioeconomic development model to measure and monitor the development of the nation's most important asset - its people. (Note: please see the "updates" section: [Q4] for the limitations of earlier initiatives and the distinction of the proposed solution in developing an alternative economic and metric system to the traditional GDP economics model)

A second-generation GNH concept (GNH 2.0)  treating happiness as a socioeconomic development metric is proposed by the International Institute of Management. The Institute proposes to call it Gross National Wellness or Wellbeing Index (GNW Index) or Gross National Happiness Index (GNH Index), to credit the King of Bhutan for his inspiring vision. (Note: please do not confuse Bhutan's GNH generic political mission statement or concept  (GNH 1.0) with IIM's technical breakthrough in designing a specific GNH / GNW socioeconomic development and measurement model (i.e. the first GNH - GNW Index metric). IIM published the first GNH Index years before Bhutan created and published their first local GNH Index. Please see "updates" section: Q1, Q2 and Q3 for clarifications)

The metric measures the socioeconomic development by tracking seven development areas, including the nation's mental and emotional health. The metric value is proposed to be an index function of the total average per capita of the following subjective and objective measures:

  1. Mental Wellness: Indicated via direct life satisfaction survey and statistical measurement of mental health metrics such as usage of antidepressants and rise or decline of the number of psychotherapy patients
  2. Physical Wellness: Indicated via statistical measurement of physical safety and  health metrics such as severe and chronic illnesses, disability, obesity and unnatural deaths.
  3. Workplace Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of labor metrics such as job income, purchasing power, jobless claims, job change, workplace complaints and labor lawsuits
  4. Social Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of social metrics such as education quality and education levels per capita, discrimination, safety, divorce rates, complaints of domestic conflicts and family lawsuits, public lawsuits, and crime rates
  5. Economic Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of economic metrics such as consumer debt, minimum and average income to consumer price index ratio, income distribution, disposal income available for retirement savings and investments.
  6. Environmental Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of living environmental metrics such as nature and infrastructure quality including pollution, noise and traffic.
  7. Political Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of political metrics such as the quality of government such as local democracy, individual freedom, domestic and foreign conflicts.

The above seven measurements were incorporated into the first Global GNH / GNW Index Survey in 2005

While the proposed new GNW or GNH Index may not be all-inclusive or provide perfect measures, the consideration of the above parameters is a good start when creating a new metric for socioeconomic development and policy management. The results of such survey help identify scientific relations, correlations and cause-effect dynamics. The weight of each dimension and sub-indicators can be customized to meet the current needs of each society or country; however health and safety dimensions outweigh other dimensions, except when a metric in another dimension influences the health dimension. For example, the availability and quality of water and soil in the environmental dimension may have direct impact on the health of the citizens as we have seen in Africa's Malaria epidemic and US cancer-causing asbestos-based manufacturing.

The Institute has noticed an initial interest in the promotion of a concept similar to the GNH Index in the western world. According to Nadia Mustapha’s article in Time magazine, "The Strategy Unit, an internal government think tank that reports to Prime Minister Tony Blair, conducted a seminar on life satisfaction and its public policy implications." Germany, Italy and France are also considering such studies." While there is an increased political interest in GNH-similar initiatives, there are no concrete proposals that offer an integrated multidimensional framework to help implement and measure the performance new happiness initiatives. The proposed GNH Index can serve as a starting point for such efforts. (Note: Since 2005, several international initiatives were influenced directly or indirectly by the proposed GNW Index solution in this paper. Some of the initiatives updated their solutions to include breakthrough design features of the GNW Index. Some cited the GNW Index, others did not, despite the striking similarities. Please see  the "updates" section: [Q4 Q5, and Q6] for further information)

C) Work

Equal opportunity is not truly equal until all U.S. populations have equal access to the same quality of education and equitable development programs.

Governments can institute new employment laws to promote life and work balance and to guarantee a healthy (mental and physical) work environment.

Contrary to what some managers think, this recommendation does not have to incur additional costs or liabilities to their businesses, instead it will improve working relationships and productivity and reduce employee turnover. A smart corporate policy will ensure the development of its management team to transform a dominating leadership style into a coaching leadership style with better work and relationship ethics.

D) Media

Without controlling free speech and the commercial rights of media owners, the government can fund public broadcasting to produce more educational and awareness programs to promote mental and emotional well-being, life management skills, and social bonding. This can help change the public taste and demand for the type of information and commercial media programs.

E) Education:

If one googles “antidepressants”, the search yields about six million pages. The same search for "depression prevention"  yields  less than 50 thousand. If one googles "happiness education" the search yields less than 500 results! Even when using different search phrases, the results are more focused on treatment than prevention.

Many mild to moderate depression cases can be eliminated or at least greatly helped with personal life management and happiness education.

The Institute recommends that happiness education starts in schools by providing basic social education in applied formats to personal and relationship management including basic psychology, self-awareness, leadership development, communication skills, conflict resolution, and basic sociology (social contracts and civil duties).

F) Environment

Institutionalize and enforce better policies to promote a cleaner and safer environment. Example areas include city planning, art, spaces, reduced pollution, noise, traffic, health, and so on.

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What are White Papers?
White papers provide businesses and government leaders with a list of questions, terminologies and discussion points that can be used to address existing or emerging challenges and opportunities. Unlike academic research papers, white papers are succinct advisory documents designed for executive communication and problem-solving. The structure of the white paper includes three main sections: 1). A statement of the problem or opportunity 2). Analysis of root causes and driving forces 3). Proposed solution and implementation best practices.

About the Author
Med Jones is the president of the International Institute of Management, a US based best practices education and consulting organization.

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Copyright License

Royalty-free use license is granted for educational (non-commercial) purposes, provided that the user/publisher includes a clear reference to the author(s) and International Institute of Management www.iim.education  (Please include the active hyperlink for online publishing). Although publishing parts of the article under fair-use is free, the use of GNH framework or GNH Index for consulting or commercial purposes requires a written permission and a licensing fee.

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References

  • Bhutan, Environmental Conservation: The Bhutanese WayTshewang C. Dorji, Royal Bhutanese Embassy, New Delhi, 2004

  • Michigan University World Value Survey, 2004

  • Human Development Report (HDR), UNDP, 1998

  • Genuine Progress Indicator, Executive Summary, Redefining Progress, 1998

  • Gross National Development (GND), MTCG, 1998

  • Does Economic Growth Improve the Human Lot? Richard Easterlin, 1974

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Updates, Corrections and Questions

If we made an error in our papers, feel free to contact us with correction information and supporting evidence. The updates will be listed in this section.

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Q&A Topics: Copyrights, Plagiarism, Research Misconduct, Propaganda, Ethnic Cleansing, Human Rights, Corrections, Bhutan GNH Index, United Nations Sustainable Development Network (UNSDN), World Happiness Report, OECD Better Life Index, CMEPSP Report, Methodology, Ranking Flaws, Measurement Accuracy, Redefining Happiness and Wellbeing, Individual Happiness, Collective Happiness, Scientific and Policy Recommendations.

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Q 1: Who created and published the first GNH Index?

A: The International Institute of Management published the first GNH and GNW Index in 2005, as a working paper and in 2006 as a policy white paper. The Center of Bhutan Studies (CBS) published their first GNH Index in 2012. In the 2012 paper, they claimed to have conducted the first national GNH Index in 2010 and that the first GNH Index was created in 2008 based on Oxford Poverty Index work of 2007. Any claim of an earlier Bhutan GNH Index is false and misleading. If CBS or the Government of Bhutan contest the aforementioned dates, additional supporting evidence will be posted to the public on this page.

Q 2: Is the Gross National Wellbeing (GNW) Index and solution copyrighted by the Institute?

A: Yes, Both works (2005 & 2006) are registered with the U.S. copyright office. Please see the Copyright Office and Library of Congress Registration.

Q 3: Is the phrase Gross National Happiness (GNH) copyrighted by IIM or Bhutan? Who coined the GNH phrase?

A: No one owns the GNH phrase. The GNH phrase is a simple phrase with a clever play on words, it cannot be copyrighted. The origin of the phrase is misattributed to the King of Bhutan. However more than one person appears to have used the phrase before he did.

First, according to our research, the earliest documented use of the phrase Gross National Happiness (GNH) appeared in "Encyclopaedia Universalis" France, Volume 17, Year 1968 (Page 164). The phrase was also used by several authors from 1970-1980. At the time of this update, there are at least three claims of origin. They include the following:

  1. Sicco Leendert Mansholt (Netherlands) who served as the 4th President of the European Commission. In 1972 He called in a letter for Gross National Happiness (GNH) instead of Gross National Product (GNP). (see page 184, "BNB" in French = GNH in English).

  2. The second claim is for Karna Sakya (Nepal) in a 1982 conference in Hawaii called "Culture Heritage Conversation".

  3. The third claim that we cited in our paper, above, is for the King of Bhutan in 1972 who at the time was a young teenager. However, after being informed of our error and upon further research, we found that we have made a mistake by attributing the phrase to the King.  We are not the only ones to make that mistake, this mistake is the result of a widespread media misinformation about the origin of GNH as a replacement for GDP. This misinformation maybe attributed the Center of Bhutan Studies (CBS) - An academic research organization connected to the government of Bhutan that led the promotion of Bhutan GNH in western media, academia and inter-governmental organizations. We are not sure if the government of Bhutan is fully aware or approves of CBS practices, we believe such practices hurts the credibility, trust and legacy of the country and its development.

Second, we found a credible academic study by Professor Lauchlan T. Munro, at, the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ottawa, who served as the Chief of Strategic Planning with UNICEF and Vice President of the Canadian IDRC organization that funded Bhutan GNH Research. From 1985 to 1987, he was a member of the Royal Bhutanese Civil Service. During his time he found no evidence of the GNH policies and traditions as claimed by the Center of Bhutan studies (CBS). He published an academic paper investigating the history of GNH and provided evidence of false and misleading academic and government statements, and academic misconduct in pre-dating events in order to invent a history of tradition. The paper is titled “WHERE DID BHUTAN'S GROSS NATIONAL HAPPINESS COME FROM? THE ORIGINS OF AN INVENTED TRADITION”.  Professor Launchlan also lists contradictory historical accounts and claims by the Center of Bhutan Studies (CBS), the lead academic and inter-governmental promoter of the history of GNH. In one document, CBS claims the date of "coining" the GNH phrase is in 1980s, in another document the date is changed to the 1970s.

Third, our direct communication  with the Center of Bhutan Studies (CBS) on this and other research issues, led us to conclude that Professor Munro is correct. Thanks to Professor Munro's rigorous research work, we stand corrected. Our researchers also discovered additional serious research misconduct that might have been intentional or unintentional. If our conclusions are contested by CBS or Bhutan's government, we will share additional supporting evidence regarding these issues on this page.

Fourth, while a single simple phrase cannot be copyrighted by anyone, we own the intellectual property rights of the breakthrough synthetic complex econometric solution of the first Global Gross National Happiness (GNH) Index and Gross National Wellbeing (GNW) Index of 2005. We kindly request researchers, authors and journalists to cite the original authorship. Our work have been acknowledged by independent researchers, we hope others will follow the same standards.

Q 4: What is the social impact of the GNW think tank paper?

A: For the international socioeconomic, political and academic impact, please visit the Gross National Wellbeing (GNW) Industry Recognition and Citations page 

Q 5: Can you share practical/real-life applications of GNW Index in public policy?

There are several applications for the GNW Index, each application can be customized to individual national or local policy needs. The following are a few policy plans and implementation  examples:

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Q 5: What does a "Per Capita Index" mean?

A terminology explanation for non-economists:  

  • "Per capita" means per person. Mathematically, it is calculated by taking any measure of a country and divide it by the total number of the population in that country. For example, you can take the total income or GDP, in US dollar amount and divide it by the population number. This allows economists to measure the total production or income created by a society in relationship to the total number of people in that society. The use of averages and ratios allow economists to compare countries of different sizes and different incomes.  

  • An Index measures the change in the performance or the progress of anything (such as an income per capita, healthcare cost, crime rate per 100,000, happiness levels, etc.) in relationship to a reference point. For example, an Index can be used to measure the percentage of change in an income of an individual or a company or a country over a period of time in a relationship to a reference year (called base year). Mathematically, an Index formula is a time series function summarizing movements (changes) in a group of related variables.

  • How can you create a complex Index made up of different indicators that measure different things (happiness, dollars, crimes, disease, etc.) and use different scales? Statisticians use a technique called "Normalization", the term used informally and can have multiple meanings, the most common meaning is to adjust different measurement scales to one common scale, usually prior to averaging.  For example, how can you compare an income per capita in USD (measured in currency per person) with the standard crime rate (measured as a rate per 100,000 of population)? Statisticians use a term called "normalization", i.e. adjusting them to a common scale (so you can compare "apple to apple").  If you visit the Global GNH / GNW Index Survey, you will see  an example of how the scale for each dimension is normalized  or adjusted to one common scale from 0-10 to measure subjective happiness of difference countries and in relationship to other objective dimensions of wellbeing.

  • “Benchmark” means “compare” to a reference point or value. For example, when comparing a group of competing countries, you choose a reference point for comparison, such as the country with highest GDP per capita or the country with lowest GDP per capita. You can also compare a country's annual GDP per capita  to a reference point in time.

Each one of the above mathematical functions (Index, averages, and normalization, and benchmark) are widely used techniques among statisticians, also each one of the statistical indicators (such as GDP, crime rate, income, etc.) existed long before, but selecting a specific set of dimensions and variables and using these mathematical functions to create a more complete measurement unit in an integrated fashion to guide public policy on happiness and wellbeing development was not a common knowledge in 2005.

The first generation GNW Index created a single measure to track the progress of happiness and wellbeing of a society in each of the dimensions (variables) of wellbeing as well as the aggregate (total sum) of all dimensions, thereby allowing benchmarking (comparing) progress over time and against other societies on each dimension and all dimensions combined. The Index model is flexible to allow policymakers to place the same or different weights to each dimension and sub-indicator thus allowing them to focus on one or more areas and see the impact on the total happiness and wellbeing score.

Prior to the GNW Index, happiness measurement were simplistic, subjective and unreliable. They were based on surveys that asked general questions such as "how happy are you?" or "how did you feel yesterday compared to today?" or "how satisfied are you in life?" The GNW Index changed that by creating a holistic and unified conceptual framework that integrated the subjective with objective measurements, by asking about happiness and satisfaction in each dimension of wellbeing and then aggregating the total score. This way, economists and the person surveyed can give a more precise and less subjective answer and rating about happiness and wellbeing in each dimension in life and overall. 

The GNW Index unified, holistic, and integrated structure allows the individual, economists, psychologists, sociologists, and policymakers to know the causes of happiness and unhappiness in each dimension and how they impact the aggregate feeling of life satisfaction and objective wellbeing over time. Policy makers can also make more informed decision on how public investment projects impact happiness and wellbeing on each dimension and total score over time.

The other advantage is that it allows policymakers to correlate between pure objective measures and pure subjective measure of life satisfaction in a 360 degree (full view or holistic) in a multidimensional manner, rather than partial, skewed, or unbalance manner.

The social impact and applications of such solution are far-reaching. For example, policymakers can use the GNW Index to allocate national investments across the dimensions of wellbeing and measure the performance of those investments on each dimension and the total score, they also allow them to compare them to other policies in other societies. One less used, but more important application of the GNW Index is political conflict studies, including peace and war studies, where causes of political tensions and conflicts within a society (economic, ethnic, civil conflicts, etc.) and between societies (cross border wars). Prior to the GNW Index, no econometric solution offered a single measurement unit based on an integrated, holistic, unified and flexible multidimensional econometric system existed that allowed such holistic policy-making application, in the same way that the GNW Index did.

Q 6: Why did you create the GNW Index? What is the purpose or value of the GNW Index? What are the main design features of GNW Index solution? (Combined Questions)

A: The GNW Index solution was designed to break through the limitations of known traditional GDP economics and public policy-making models. At the time of publishing of the first paper, there was no mature and accepted policy framework to support the centuries-old inspiring holistic philosophical and political visions.

Although the GNW Index was the product of a creative process and was based on earlier multi-national and multi-cultural personal and professional experience. Later research discovered hundreds of fragmented indicators  and a few partially integrated measurement solutions that existed before. Despite their valuable insights and contribution to the total heritage of socioeconomic wisdom, they were severely deficient in measuring subjective (happiness) and objective wellbeing, let alone measuring subjective happiness in relationship to each and all of the critical objective dimensions of wellbeing. For example, we found studies that measured crime rates, but not pollution; income inequality, but not poverty;  the number of doctors or hospital bed per capita, but not (the more important)  mental and physical health indicators such as depression or chronic diseases; income per capita, but not unemployment rate;  employment but not work-life balance; environmental pollution, but not urban noises or traffic congestion;  religious affiliation, but not political wellness indicators such as domestic and foreign conflicts.

More importantly, even the existing life satisfaction studies were incomplete or too generic to guide any practical public policy actions, they rated the generic feeling of satisfaction in relationship to income and other few fragmented indicators, they were not fully integrated into a specific multidimensional subjective and objective measurement system in relation to each and all the dimensions of wellbeing and were not expressed in a unified measurement unit that allow its adoption similar to the GDP indicator.

For example, one of the most important indicators of happiness and wellbeing is the quality of the family relationship; no measure of subjective or objective wellbeing is complete without measuring social stress, mainly, family stress using indicators such as divorce rates and single parenthood, especially considering that half of marriages end in divorce. It is a well-known fact that social relationships and more importantly, the quality of family life is the cornerstone of mental, emotional and behavioral wellbeing. Measuring happiness in relationship to income and other indicators without including relevant social and family indicators is incomplete at best and may not result a reliable subjective or objective wellbeing conclusions. If some studies measured divorce rates as an indicator of social wellbeing, they overlooked major other subjective and objective dimensions.

Upon being advised that our GNW Index was plagiarized by some researchers, we did a more detailed study of publically accessible research and found that the scholarship in the pursuit of happiness and wellbeing started as early as the Chinese and Greek philosophers (B.C.).  Many of them identified the main dimensions of a happy and good life. We found some academic research that cited surveyed those philosophers and some of them became famous researchers, yet their research, in our opinion, is unoriginal, fuzzy and contributes no real value for public policy or the science of happiness. If you ask a group of a few people what makes them happy or unhappy, you are likely going to get a list of substantially overlapping factors or dimensions; you do not need a rocket scientist to tell you what makes people happy, yet we found many academics who appear to be fascinated by citing early philosophers or famous researchers for apparently paraphrasing old-age insights in  modern language, even with so much research, some of them even missed critical dimensions. In their writings, they are probably are trying to show that they have done their homework or that their research knowledge is vast. In their pursuit of knowledge,  they either suffered from too much focus or information overload, we call these ivory tower academics whose writing are based more on books and much less on real-life experience.

On the other hand, we also found few pioneering studies and solutions that were successful in the creation of concrete and useful measurement units, among the more well-known studies, yet incomplete measurement units (partial measurement, un-integrated, non-holistic, or use different methodologies) are;

(1) The happiness or life satisfaction surveys in relationship to individual income by Richard Easterlin (1974); (2) The World Values Survey (1982) by Ronald Inglehart that measured happiness in relationship to cultural values; (3) The Human Development Index (HDI, 1990) developed by Mahbob El-Haq at the UNDP that measured national income, literacy and life expectancy, but did not measure happiness or other factors that effect wellbeing such as pollution, crime and other factors listed in the GNW Index (Note: unfortunately, academic bias existed as early as 1990s, we found many academic papers that attributed the credit to developing HDI after the death of El-Haq to another award winning researcher who opposed HDI creation;  (4) The important and innovative ecological economic indicator, the MEW (measure of economic welfare) developed by William Nordhaus and James Tobin in 1972, and the follow up version, ISEW, (the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare) by Daly and Cobb in 1989 and Genuine Progress Indicator 1998 that added and/or subtracted measures of personal consumption, capital formation, defense expenditure and natural resources depletion, but they did not measure the happiness and other wellbeing indicators and did not use a complex index to represent the changes in these dimensions and total measurement unit; and (5) The Gross National Development (GND, 1998) that provided a more complete objective measures, but no subjective measure of wellbeing. We found no measurement unit that took into consideration the integration of mental health and emotional (happiness or subjective) well-being in the same way as the GNW Index and most of them were blind to one or more critical dimensions and indicators of wellbeing. It appeared that the early pioneering economists were either too specialized on poverty indicators, social indicators or environmental and most of them shied from measuring happiness due to its subjectivity and the difficulty in defining it in econometric framework.

Note: Some earlier initiatives updated their design model after 2005 to include additional wellbeing dimensions and indicators to something similar to the GNW Index, but did not rename their model to version 1.0, 2.0 and so on, thus misleading many academic researchers and paper to the dates of their design.

In short, despite the great contribution of these initiatives to the body of knowledge of happiness and wellbeing measurement science, these proposals and the indicators were fragmented and limited in measuring subjective and objective wellbeing.  Incomplete measurement system and fragmented indicators can lead to wrong conclusions and policy actions. We also note that just because we think these solutions are incomplete, it does not mean they are of any less value as a developmental milestones; these solutions and insights were broke through of the limitations of prior measurements and should be credited for contribution. We are also confident that future researchers will recognize the limitations of our GNW Index and propose better solutions.

The institute's first GNH and GNW Index was recognized by some scholars and policy makers for one or more of the following ten contributions:

  1. Prior to the GNW Index, many policy makers and their advisors recognized the limitations of traditional economics and called for the development of alternative models, but they could not implement their vision due to the lack of a  practical tool with a complete econometric system that integrates subjective and objective measures. Many psychological surveys and research papers on the topic of happiness, existed; however, few economists and government officials, if any, took seriously the concept of happiness as a development policy; in our opinion, this was mainly due to the difficulty of measuring the subjective nature of "feelings". Mainstream economists did not consider happiness as a main policy objective. To the best of our knowledge, the GNW Index was the first published complete policy management system to quantify happiness and integrate it into an econometric tool in relationship to other dimensions of health, political, social, workplace, economic and environmental well-being. 

  2. From a political perspective, we believed that one of the main causes of failure of prior political initiatives in implementing happiness and wellbeing policies is the subjective nature of happiness. Most economist would not touch intangible non-quantifiable subjects. We aimed at creating a new survey and measurement system to overcome that thinking and implementation gap. For example, in our opinion, the Bhutan's GNH philosophy was nothing more than a good mission statement with no real advances for more than 30 years. Almost all enterprises start with an inspiring mission statement, but fail to progress due to lack of practical execution and management tools. This also explains the widespread poverty and social problems in Bhutan for the past three or more decades. Visions cannot be implemented without a proper application system and tools. The adage "you cannot manage what you cannot measure" is true in this context. In 2012, Bhutan published their local GNH Index. Most of their dimensions overlap with the first IIM GNH Index, with the exception of of the addition of karma, prayer, and cultural preservation indicators. We disagree with such inclusions for open democratic and diverse societies.

  3. Create a synthetic multidimensional measurement metric that unites the measurement of  progress of happiness and wellbeing in a context of sustainable development, the aim was to create a metric similar to what the GDP metric did to fragmented economic measurements more than eighty years ago. Although there were many advances in happiness psychology as a science, and some pioneering breakthroughs in welfare (poverty) economics,  happiness economics was (and remains) in its infancy relative to other social sciences. To the best of our knowledge, at the time of the publishing of the GNW Index first working paper in 2005, happiness policy initiatives were generic, abstract, and subjective mission statements. They lacked concrete integrated econometric and scientific decision-making measurement unit for measurement of progress and effective implementation, let alone provide a viable metric to supplement or replace GDP.  The situation was similar to creation of GDP; prior to GDP, there were many fragmented measurements.  GDP created a metric that allowed governments and economists to measure economic activities and growth. Our GNW index aimed to create an Index that integrates wellbeing economics and decision-making frameworks into a unit to measure the progress of wellbeing (subjective and objective) as the main socioeconomic development metric. Since 1998, the author submitted similar metrics and proposals to government agencies, but the one that proved most popular was the GNW Index. We believe this is in part due to the completeness of the framework, the integration of subject and objective components, and redefining the subjective components in relationship to the each and all the critical dimensions of objective wellbeing.

  4. Redefine happiness from the traditional subjective psychological context of general  and unreliable rating of feelings (asking questions how do you rate your life satisfaction) to a holistic, specific and concrete wellbeing economic context with the creation of a measurement unit that rates satisfaction for each of the major dimensions of wellbeing and combined together as one complex synthetic measurement unit to provide more accurate assessment of happiness and wellbeing. Please note that this is a major distinction from the famous pioneering but partial correlation attempts that existed prior to the GNW Index and surveyed people on their happiness or general life satisfaction or  correlated happiness with income (Easterlin, 1974), or religion or culture (World Value Survey 2004). In our opinion, the relative and subjective aspects of happiness makes it difficult to quantify in a reliable manner. This might explain the reluctance of economists and scholars to address this area of research before 2005-2006 and the sudden explosion of studies on the subject by famous academics and their followers.

  5. Our research found that international development agencies and governments had large collections of statistical indicators that were mostly used in silos to measure the performance of an individual sector or dimension; We believe that the GNW Index provided the first fully integrated 360-degree tool for economists and policy makers to effectively measure and manage the well-being of their citizens. There were earlier attempts to create a similar solution but the dimensions were incomplete, methodologies were different, &/or they did not integrate subjective and objective measures. Some of the noteworthy pioneering attempts are the Human Development Index (HDI) and Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI). The GNW Index aimed to change the paradigm of governance from economic growth to happiness and wellbeing development.

  6. Use the solution to evaluate, selection measure the outcome of public policies and investment portfolio of public projects. One of the important applications of the gross national wellbeing (GNW) solution is for public investments to measure the strategic wellbeing return on investment in public policies and projects. We call those metrics ROW (Return on Wellbeing) or Return on Happiness (ROH) instead of the traditional ROI (Return on Investment).

  7. Create a flexible solution that can be used by different policy makers with different political priorities but use a common communication and reporting framework to bridge political views and communication gaps.

  8. We hoped that the measurement system  will become a holistic executive-government accountability framework for elected officials and for citizens to evaluate their government performance. The GNW Index is designed to provide accountability and transparency and reporting to all stakeholders including but not limited to the citizens, congress (parliament) and government agencies. Heads of states competing for election can now have a clear system for debating the issues, instead of misleading themselves and the public by using general mission statements with no real measurements. So, if they say, we want to invest in a project, the question they have to answer is at what expense and what is the cost of lost opportunities  in other dimensions.

  9. Help develop and increase happiness and wellbeing within communities and among nation.

  10. The management system is designed to be flexible and therefore it is  not politically restrictive; it allows heads of states with different priorities to use the same flexible solution with varying weight on the investment measurement model. However, one of the more important functions of such solutions, is the removal of blind spots in decision-making and allowing the leaders to see the individual and social wellbeing impact of any major investment shift. 

Some believe, that the GNW Index opened the door for several international initiatives. The new science of happiness economics is filled with new and exciting developments that promise to advance well-being policy-making all over the world.

Note: Just because we are attempting to distinguish the value of our contribution and reclaim the authorship credit of our work, it does not mean that we do not value earlier contributions by other pioneering researchers who opened the door for future innovators, including ourselves.

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Q 7: What is a policy white paper? What is the difference between academic papers and white papers?

A: A white paper is a brief consulting paper used to introduce  innovative solutions, out of the box thinking, opinions and views on major problems, risks, and opportunities to clients. White papers serve as business development and education tools used by think tanks and consulting firms to create market awareness, educate and serve the public and clients. Most executives are more interested in practical solutions than academic theory. Academic papers, however, are research papers that are usually written by a person with an academic title such as a scholar or a professor. They are required to conduct a thorough survey of existing literature, the papers tend to be longer with more annotations and references. Sometimes the two types of papers overlap in purpose, function and application. After we published the GNW Index as a white paper, the design of the Index found its way to academia and gained many supporters, some academics contacted us to make corrections to some citations and we did that without any hesitation. We believe that correcting an error in any article demonstrates professional integrity, while covering up a mistake is an act of intentional dishonesty driven in part by pride or hubris, which is almost always worse than admitting to making a mistake. Although the GNW Index was the baby of a creative process, we learned a lot in the past decade about the emerging academic research in the field, the "hunger" and the competition among academics to create of a better system of measurement and decision-making for policy makers. You can find future public updates on this page.

 

Q 8: As an academic researcher, can I use the GNW Index in my articles for analysis and improvement?

A: Yes. We encourage scholars to do so for the public benefit. We consider this type of work as fair-use. We do not charge money for spreading happiness and we do not want to restrict fair-use and progress. However, if your work uses our solution or is strikingly similar to ours, but you fail to credit us for the original authorship, or if you charge money for consulting or commercial purposes, then you will have violated the fair-use rule and may be required to pay damages arising from any resulting plagiarism, intellectual property rights infringement, false advertising of origin, and/or unfair competition. Academic standards require thorough research and at minimum the citation of the original author of the main ideas in your paper. If you unintentionally overlooked the citation of the original source of the main idea behind your work, you are expected to quickly correct your paper in order to prevent misleading the editors and the readers and causing further damage to the original author.

Selective referencing in favor of politically or academic affiliated author at the expense of an original author is also considered professional and academic misconduct and requires correction or risk academic and other sanctions.

Q 9: If we reference your Institute, can we print and distribute copies of your articles?

A: You can print it royalty-free for education purposes while adhering to fair-use rules. If you plan to use our work, or any part thereof, in any way for which you charge money for commercial purposes, including consulting, then you will require a written permission from us and may be required to pay a licensing fee. If you are in doubt as to whether your planned use of any of our work falls within the fair-use doctrine, please contact us — we may be able to make an exception for some clients in developing countries on case-by-case basis. We can also make an exception for journalists.

Q 10: Why don't you publish your papers in academic journals?

A: Although some of our members are academic researchers, we are not an academic institution. We are an independent private think tank. We are not funded by donors or governments. As an independent entity, we have to make money to survive. We are “for profit-with-a-purpose” organization. Unlike most universities, we do not receive public funding to support our research. We are concerned that if we publish in academic journals, we might lose some of our intellectual property rights.

Even when we decided to publish the GNW paper on our website for awareness and marketing, we were surprised by the level plagiarism and intellectual property rights violations by others. We contacted some of the authors who failed to cite our breakthrough work, some of them were blinded by the resulting fame and financial gain, they attempted to deprive us of our authorship credit, even though our solution clearly pre-dates theirs and is strikingly similar, and they had access to our work before they published their report. Therefore, we took a decision to minimize the public sharing of our work, until we resolve the copyrights issue.

Q 11: Can you recommend additional reading material to help our research?

A: Yes. Please re-visit this page for the planned full report in 2019-2020.

Q 12: Is your think tank politically conservative or liberal institution?

A: We are an independent think-tank. We would like to think of ourselves as more of a solution-oriented and less ideology-oriented think tank. We do not promote conservative or liberal socioeconomic agendas. Our solutions sometimes agree with conservatives and sometimes with liberals.

Q 13: Are you a lobby working on behalf of the Government of Bhutan, the US or any other government?

A: We are an independent think-tank. We are not a lobbying organization and we do not get paid to promote any government policies. Our authors are independent thinkers. We have a strict code against political influence. If in the future we get paid by a government to publish a policy paper, we will disclose such payment in the paper. Please see our <board> and <code>


Q 14: Is the author Buddhist or promoting the Buddhist religion?

A:  The author of this paper is not a Buddhist, but he respects the total heritage of religious wisdom, including the Buddhist faith. We do not promote or work against any religion. Our members have different philosophical and religious backgrounds; some of them are Atheists, Buddhist, Christian, Jews, Hindus, and Muslims.

Q 15: Why did you mention the King of Bhutan political philosophy,  but did not mention the Greek (Aristotle), Chinese (Confucius), and other philosophies or religions in your Happiness work? (Combined questions)


A: White papers are brief summary papers that are designed to discuss views and introduce new creative solutions to existing problem. They are not academic papers that  require extensive survey of academic literature or tracing historical developments. As such, we have no problem acknowledging the influence of other philosophers and cultures. It appears that the GNH and GNW breakthrough is becoming an issue of national or religious pride to some. When it comes to happiness, one can find good happiness advice in all cultures and religions. Happiness is not exclusive to any religion, culture, or organization. The King of Bhutan is not the first or the only policy maker to mention happiness in the context of a public policy or state the limitation of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Before him several European policy makers used the word GNH. In the US, Robert Kennedy in the 1960s articulated the same concept of  the limitations of GDP in measuring happiness and joy. Our paper was designed to help the supporters of Gross National Happiness and similar philosophies to implement the solution. 

Q 16: Did you know that Bhutan's GNH was a government propaganda that used well-known academics and intergovernmental organizations such as the United Nations to corrupt the history of the government policies? Did you know that the original GNH pillars of “good governance” and “cultural preservation” resulted in gross violations of human rights and the execution of one of the largest ethno-religious cleansings against the Hindu Nepalese population in Bhutan? Considering the public evidence are you going to issue a correction?

A:  The author and the Institute apologize to the Bhutanese refugees. It was never our intention to promote any person or government at the expense of human rights. As far as we are concerned, we created the GNW/GNH Index in part to help improve the happiness and wellbeing of all nations, including Bhutan. Our GNH Survey and Index are designed for open and democratic societies that protect human rights (please see the democratic indicators in the Index and the  survey). It does not advocate any single religion or cultural tradition. However, in the light of new evidence, our code of ethics necessitate that we share the following updated findings with our readers:

First,  our research on the actual policies and historical events of the Bhutanese government sufficient evidence of propaganda to cover the historical ethnic cleansing as a result of the GNH pillar of "cultural preservation". According to Human Rights Watch, Over 100,000 or 1/6 of the population of Bhutan of Nepalese origin and Hindu faith were expelled from the country because (their ethnicity and Hindu faith) were considered "a threat" Bhutan’s Buddhist culture. In reference to the successful propaganda effort, the Refugee Council of Australia, made the following public statement, “It is extraordinary and shocking that a nation can get away with expelling one sixth of its people and somehow keep its international reputation largely intact. The government of Bhutan should be known not for Gross National Happiness but for Gross National Hypocrisy." We also verified the information about the ethnic cleansing from other sources including the US White House and Amnesty International. (Disclosure: our Chairman serves on the board of director of Amnesty International, USA).

The above listed sources can be independently searched and verified online. We are not a historical research think tank, however, professional integrity and ethics obligate us to issue a correction based on the new findings.

Second, in our experience, we have seen how the public is influenced by a well-orchestrated government lobbying and media campaign, especially when endorsed by celebrity academics at  inter-governmental organizations. This usually results in overshadowing the truth. Like us, many well-intentioned western authors, who were involved in well-being research but were not involved in Bhutan’s political affairs, mis-interpreted the generic abstract statements about the pillars of Bhutan GNH using their own western lens. We were surprised that so many of the academics continue to promote wrong misconceptions about the original GNH pillars and policies in various conferences and especially at the United Nations Sustainable Development Network (UNSDN). Few academics, if any, issued a correction or an apology. We believe that some academics might not be aware of such historical facts, and others might be closely connected to the government of Bhutan or their promoters, and some do not want to admit such a high-profile academic research failure in public. We urge the editors of the UNSDN World Happiness Report to do the right thing. Academics are not diplomats, in their writings, diplomacy and personal or political relationships should never be the expense of the truth or human rights.

Third, the government of Bhutan took several steps towards becoming a more open and democratic country; however, we found no public formal apology or restitution to the victims of the ethnic cleansing. We hope that the values of the King and his new democratic government will evolve and find the courage to acknowledge prior mistakes and take corrective actions.

Fourth, the goal of our paper is to spread happiness and equal human rights for all, not to create happiness for some people at the expense of others, without consideration to any political affiliation.

Finally, we hope the above statements bring some justice to the refugees and some balance to our paper.

Q 17: In 2016, we discovered some famous researchers have presented to our clients an overwhelmingly similar solution to our GNW Index. Upon further research we found that they had access to our GNW Index paper. We consulted with academic experts, who compared both solutions, and they confirmed that their solutions plagiarized ours. When we contacted the offending researchers, they admitted the similarities, but they claimed that the solution is based on a knowledge belonging to the distant past and refused to acknowledge our prior authorship. They disparaged the value of our solution and its author, in private, while in public, they called their overwhelmingly similar solution a historical milestone in development. They deprived us of our authorship rights in private, while in public, they used copyright sign to claim the same ownership rights of the disputed solution and raise research funds.

We note to the public that we are not claiming that we were the first to design an alternative development indicator to GDP or to research happiness and wellbeing indicators, we acknowledge that several pioneering authors contributed to the domain before we did; On the other hand, we are claiming the authorship rights to our specific design that was considered by independent researchers as a developmental milestone and was later kidnapped by the offending researchers, then selling the solution to our government clients, thus violating academic integrity standards and fair-use rule.

We are researching available forums to reclaim our rights. We do not wish to restrict researchers from creating their own indicators, but we ask that if researchers use our work, then to follow the fair-use rules and cite our solution in their academic papers.

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Q&A about plagiarizing our work by some celebrity scholar(s) is expected to be published in December, 2018.

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Last Updated: August 6, 2018.