The happiness economics

The Fourth King of Bhutan, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, (pic) conceptualised and coined the term GNH in 1972 and declared that “GNH is more important than GDP.”

IN the study of economics, most are familiar with the monetary aspect and place great importance on the gross domestic product or GDP of a nation. However, not everything is about money, income and wealth.

There is a particular index that measures happiness. This is known as the “happiness economics”.

Happiness economics is an actual study of the relationship between individual satisfaction and economics. It is conducted through a survey which asks participants to rank their level of happiness (on the scale of one to 10) on factors such as their countries’ political freedom, healthcare and education, among others.

Bhutan, one of the last Buddhist Kingdoms, is renowned for its landscape, monasteries and fortresses. Above all else, it is widely regarded as the “Happiest nation in the world”.

Much emphasis has been placed on the happiness of the population so much so that the gross national happiness (GNH), which is the philosophy that guides the government of Bhutan, is part of the country’s constitution enacted on July 18, 2008.

In fact, the Fourth King of Bhutan, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, conceptualised and coined the term GNH in 1972 and declared that “GNH is more important than GDP.”

The United Nations General Assembly in 2011 most notably passed and adopted resolution 65/309, “Happiness: towards a holistic approach to development”, urging countries to follow the example of Bhutan to measure happiness and well-being.

In the following year, Bhutan’s Prime Minister Jigme Thinley and the Secretary-General of the UN Ban Ki-Moon convened the high level meeting “Well-being and Happiness: Defining a New Economic Paradigm” to encourage the spread of Bhutan’s GNH philosophy. This led to the eventual birth of the World Happiness Report.

Now in its 11th year, Scandinavian countries consistently fare very well in this area where they are often ranked in the top-10 happiest countries in the world.

Finland for one has done extremely well in this aspect when measured via the GNH index with an average score of 7.84 between 2018 and 2020. This was the fourth time in a row that Finland had topped the chart.

Iceland and Denmark came in at second and third place in the recent World Happiness Report 2021 by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network’s (SDSN), which studies over 149 countries in the world.

Malaysia was ranked the 81st happiest country in the latest report. The question is, with all that we have gone through in the past couple of years, would anyone agree we are considered a “moderately happy” nation?

A flood is definitely not the way to close a year already filled with hardship. Losing one’s home is the ultimate blow, as it is supposed to be one’s sanctuary.

It is tough enough to go through two years of the pandemic but to survive a once-in-a 100-year pandemic only to meet with a once-in-a-100-year flood may be too much to bear even for the strongest of characters.

It is never easy to deal with forces of nature, what more an act of God. Times like these make me wonder about the insignificance of financial markets and in extension the stock market.

This is why I believe that policy makers may need to consider a more holistic approach towards the guiding policy which, in turn, would drive our nation’s future.

Crisis, if anything, exposes the structural weakness of a country. Such pressure points when challenged would become a potential for disaster if left unaddressed.

Taking the recent catastrophic flood as an example, the common feedback be it on social media or on the ground would be that the people appear to rely more on one another instead of the government agencies for support and help.

Sentiment is especially negative towards the ill-prepared state of the government machinery and more so the respond time and at times the insensitive reactionary moves adopted by those in power.

In hindsight, it is always easy to find a justification or scapegoat. However, if a country does well be it socially or economically, the government leaders will take the credit.

Similarly, in the case of a weak performance, they should be prepared to shoulder the burden of criticism too.

I do not believe leaders of any sort be it in corporate or the government should be infallible. Otherwise, there would be little room for improvement and much less opportunity to grow.

Looking at things from a positive light, the outpouring of help by good Samaritans and the mobilisation of the people without the need of an authority or leader to guide them clearly shows the promise of Malaysia not only as a strong nation, but one that is bonded by humanity rather than the colour of skin, creed or belief.

It tells a lot about the people of a nation who can rely on one another for support in times of need.

During the “KitaJagaKita” movement during the pandemic, we witnessed firsthand the countless acts of altruism from all corners of our society. The flood is another wonderful reminder of the potential of our country and the ray of hope going into 2022.

While a recent World Bank report stated that Malaysia’s limited fiscal space would impede its 2022 recovery in spite of a record size Budget 2022, I am still optimistic as we cross over into a new year.

As we end the year, it is important to reflect on the past in order to learn from the mistakes, but we should try to keep our chins up, as otherwise, we may miss out on opportunities for a better year ahead.

The people’s happiness is one of the more important components of the economy that is often overlooked under the voluminous amount of numbers and data.

Citing the UN General Assembly in 2011, the resolution said “the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal”.

To all policy makers, let us not forget past challenges but strive for 2022 to be one that is more proactive in adopting the economics of happiness.

I believe a happy nation has a very good chance of being a prosperous nation.

Ng Zhu Hann is the author of “Once Upon A Time In Bursa”. He is a lawyer and former chief strategist of a Fortune 500 Corp. The views expressed here are the writer’s own.

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