THE HAPPY STATE
When I first heard about the idea of the GNH, the “Gross National Health”- Index I was really enthusiastic about it. The GNH is an alternative to the GDP (Gross Domestic Product); instead of making a nation’s condition depending on the economic development, the GNH measures people’s social and psychological feeling with several quantitative and qualitative indicators and uses the results as an indicator for the real success of a state.
This system was being introduced and used first in the small South Asian kingdom Bhutan.
So there, the success of a government does not only depend on the economic achievements of the country, but on how happy Bhutan’s people are? Sounds like paradise and the realization of a less money- focused society.
But even though the idea behind this alternative systems is originally good it also comes with some major problems.
First of all I really doubt that happiness is a factor that can be measured universally for many cultures all over the globe. The GNH and the factors that are being measured to determine the happiness of a country which include the economic, the environmental, the physical, the mental, the workplace, the social and the political wellness were originally matched to the Bhutanese nation, but once the idea started to spread all over the world theses indicators have been modified to make them fit more different countries’ structures.
This, in my opinion, ruins a lot of the actual validity of the GNH. In surveys on happiness that have been developed by Chinese researchers for example, the topic “food” is included as one of the “happy factors”, as food has a much bigger impact on peoples well -being. You can’t use the same leveling board for different nations.
And I would go even further: isn’t everyone happy in his/her own way, isn’t happiness such a subjective feeling that it is impossible to be reached the same way for two different individuals?
So is the word ‘happiness” in the GNH being used in a misguiding way, because happiness as most people understand it just can’t be ‘measured’?
Secondly, the idea of the GNH comes with a big danger: governments could use the GNH to prohibit social dissatisfaction. We could come to the point that the originally good idea of the GNH is being used to build up a scientific surrounding of happiness, in which the state uses it’s knowledge of its peoples needs to feel happy to make us forget unfair, unbalanced power structures and problems that we aren’t actually confronted with by satisfying our short- term needs.
This would lead to a dilemma, because it would be hard to find the crucial point at which the pursuit for the happiness of the people turns into a pursuit for more power and control.
In general the idea of a state trying to make people’s lives happier clashes with another main idea of a liberal society of autonomous, free individuals: the idea of ‘comprehensive doctrines’.
This idea was included in many very important political theorist’s and philosopher’s ideas, but the way that I want to introduce it here was defined by John Rawls, an American philosopher, whose main work “A Theory of Justice” (1971) is presumed to be one of the most influential works of modern political philosophy. Rawls describes ‘comprehensive doctrines’ as an idea of how to live a good life that everyone is able to develop individually and that everyone needs, because without one would be aimless. Rawls states out that in a free state everyone should be able to follow his/her own idea of a good life (without preventing anybody else from doing so, too).
Rawls underlines that therefor that a system of a free state could never include a universal ‘comprehensive doctrine’ that would dictate all of its people an idea of how to live a good life.
This obviously is a very liberal point of view and there are many other political approaches on how to solve this problem, but the main statement stays the same: a state which dictates a universal ‘comprehensive doctrine’, so to say a universal instruction on how to be happy, is a unfree state. And for me, the GNH implies such ideas.
I am not trying to say that the idea of a state trying to really improve their people’s happiness is something fundamentally bad. But I think that in today’s society this approach could not lead to the desired result. I think that happiness can only be achieved with the initiative of oneself, that it is nothing a state or anyone else can “give” to us. Happiness isn’t something that can be produced or improved. It would be great, if all governments would really try to build up a surrounding in which everyone would have the same chances to follow their own ideas of a good life, but that won’t be achieved by standardized state- run actions based on survey results and statistics like the GNH.
By: Carolin Grüning