«Abstract This paper investigates empirically some of the critical aspects of wellbeing, primarily constituting the standard of living in Bhutan, ...»
Conglomerate Radar of Happiness in Bhutan
Prabhat K Pankaj∗
This paper investigates empirically some of the critical aspects of
wellbeing, primarily constituting the standard of living in Bhutan, using
conglomerative radar perspective and econometric technique. The
analysis is based on district level data for Bhutan, pertaining to the
year 2005, taken from recently concluded standard of living survey
and census enumeration in the country. The study concludes that at a
disaggregate level, conglomerates of wellbeing enhancing indicators are important as they tend to contribute to the happiness of individual as well as society. Beyond this level, it is the lifetime satisfaction which is important for happiness. The study suggests focusing on domain satisfaction indicators for poor performing districts in Bhutan.
Introduction The UNDP human development framework emphasised the recognition of broad based consensus on the three critical
dimensions of wellbeing.1 These dimensions of wellbeing are:
Longevity Education Command over Resources Longevity is about the ability to live a long and healthy life.
Education is the ability to read, write and acquire knowledge.
Command over resources is the ability to enjoy a decent standard of living and have a socially meaningful life. These three critical elements of wellbeing facilitate effective empowerment and bring about a social, economic and political inclusion of the marginalised segments of the mainstream society. While much has been established to enhance our understanding about the significance of longevity and education on wellbeing research, ∗ IILM Graduate School of Business, New Delhi, India.
UNDP Human Development Index reports.
Conglomerate Radar of Happiness in Bhutan relatively less has been spoken on the significance of command over resources. However, domain satisfaction research seems to have focused on some of the aspects of command over resources.
Individual command over resources determines sustenance, attainments of aspects of wellbeing and the opportunity that these attainments facilitate. It can also be pointed out that ensuring command over resources and amenities alone is not sufficient for lifetime satisfaction. Happiness is derived both from domain satisfaction as well as lifetime satisfaction. Both are necessary and initially they tend to reinforce each other. However, the researchable question raised here is: To what extent do improvements in dimensions of wellbeing ensure happiness?
The conglomerative perspective provides an effective and wellestablished way of understanding the dynamics and reinforcement of critical elements of wellbeing and thereby happiness of people and society. The conglomerative perspective looks at the advances made by society as a whole. Contrary to this, the deprivational perspective captures the status of the deprived in society. Both approaches are essential to understand societal wellbeing. While the first approach would suggest what enhances wellbeing in general, the second approach would capture the possible extent of reduction in wellbeing due to deprivation and lack of command over resources.
The present paper examines some of the critical elements of wellbeing in Bhutan and their relationship with happiness using the conglomerative perspective. The results have been obtained by drawing conglomerative radar for disaggregated data on some of the critical aspects of wellbeing in the country. Much of our understanding about Bhutan is intuitive in nature and lacks empirical support due to the unavailability of data. It is virtually impossible to attempt a disaggregated analysis, e.g. district level analysis. However, the situation seems to be improving and the recent standard of living survey and census enumeration of the country have provided a good database at the disaggregate level.
The present paper makes use of this database for analysis.
Towards Global Transformation
Section II: Literature review The growing literature on happiness has been immensely enriched with Bhutan’s contribution of Gross National Happiness (GNH).
The holistic concept of GNH is constantly evolving and an attempt has also been made to model and quantify the concept. GNH is a macro concept and in all probability there exits a need for ascertaining the link between GNH and individual happiness. The pertinent question to ask is whether improvement as registered in a proposed GNH Index (seemingly in the making to quantify aggregate happiness of the nation), would essentially mean an improvement in individual happiness. Furthermore, when GNH is more important than GDP, then essentially the distribution of happiness, like the distribution of GDP, would be as important as the aggregate of GNH.
In the paper presented in the First International Conference on “Operationalising Gross National Happiness” held in Thimphu, I and my colleague argued that there seems to be a moderate link between GNH and individual happiness (Pankaj & Dorjee, 2005).
Based on field data from eastern parts of Bhutan, the study showed that income and the social profile of individuals contribute differentially towards their happiness when seen across rural-urban set up and also across occupation, income class and age. Therefore, it makes sense to further analyse and understand happiness in the country for a better understanding of the linkage between GNH and individual happiness.
Current status of happiness research There has been a phenomenal growth in happiness research since the 1960s with over 3000 published studies exploring this subject in a variety of ways (www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu). As more and more has been discovered, there is also a growing realisation among scholars that more needs to be explored. Like the subject of happiness itself, the convergence of opinion on its research is far from sight. Happiness research hasn’t been more about understanding it as perfectly as possible but it has been more about how the research can help individuals and societies to become as happy as possible. This makes research more relevant on a subject as elusive as happiness. There is a shift in the Conglomerate Radar of Happiness in Bhutan domain of happiness research from psychology to that of applied psychology wherein the focus is on happiness increase research.
The contribution of GNH in enhancing the status the happiness research is enormous. In fact, GNH has provided an alternative worldview which will go a long way in securing the greatest happiness for the greatest mass.
The literature on subjective wellbeing or happiness is fast growing and a comprehensive review of this literature can be found in Veenhoven (in press); many attempt to seek interventions to increase happiness (Fava, 1999; Fava & Ruini, 2003). Studies have pointed out clearly the distinction between the two components of ‘satisfaction’ (happiness); ‘life (global) satisfaction’ and ‘domain (work, family, self, etc.) satisfactions’. The leading researcher and authority on happiness, Rutt Veenhoven, visualised happiness as the degree to which an individual judges the overall quality of life-as-a-whole favourably. Psychologist Jonathan Freeman pointed out that people may pursue happiness differently, but by and large it is the same happiness for everyone.
Therefore, happiness can be viewed and discussed both as a global as well as individual concept. Happiness is an individual expression as much as it is an aggregate expression for an individual as also for the society as a whole. However, scarcely any study has attempted to find the link between aggregate happiness and individual happiness. It is imperative to ask and explore whether enhancement in societal happiness necessarily would increase individual happiness of everyone in the society. Is there a distributional aspect of happiness as an aggregate expression?
Determinants of happiness Jeremy Bentham provided one of the earliest accounts of the calculus of pain and pleasure while bringing the discussion on utility to the forefront in England in 1789 (Stigler, 1965).
Bentham’s thirty-two circumstances explained pleasure and pain.
However, discussion in economics thereafter, cantered on discovering and rediscovering the principles of marginal utility and later on, their measurement. Utility is akin to welfare. As such, an enhancement in welfare can be measured in terms of changes in utility. More income brings enhanced consumption Towards Global Transformation which increases utility and hence welfare (happiness). The object of public policy should be to maximise the sum of happiness in society. Since marginal utility of money is more for the poor, it makes sense to focus on the redistribution of income. Contrary to this, many studies have confirmed that happiness, not income, constitutes the ultimate goal of most individuals (Easterlin, 1995;
Easterlin, 2001; Ng, 1997; Oswald, 1997). Easterlin provided one of the earliest empirical works about self-reported happiness. The decade of the 1990s witnessed increased awareness on the subject, and economists have shown that happiness is not an entirely personalised phenomenon; rather, it also depends on conditions like unemployment, inflation and income (Clark & Oswald, 1994; Oswald, 1997; Easterlin, 200). Some scholars have also tried to quantify the effect of variables such as freedom (Frey,
2000) air pollution (Welsch, 2003), aircraft noise (Praag & Baarsma, 2001) and climate (Rehdanz & Maddison).
A good deal of discussion on this subject can be found in Layard (Layard, 2003) which emphasised that GDP is a hopeless measure of welfare demonstrated by the fact that despite a several-fold increase in per capita GDP the happiness of the population tended to stagnate. Layard points out that Pareto optimality leads us to a situation where no one could be happier without someone else being less happy. Even if we account for problems such as asymmetric information, short-sightedness, externalities and diseconomies of scale, it only can suggest that higher real wages will make the population happier. It fails to realise that our wants, once we are above subsistence level, are largely derived from society and they are major factors affecting happiness. Karl Marx said, “A house may be large or small; as long as the surrounding houses are equally small, it satisfies all social demands for a dwelling. But if a palace rises beside the little house, the little house shrinks into a hut,” (quoted in Layard, 2003). Layard concludes that rational policy-making is possible since happiness is a real scalar variable and can be compared between people.
Helliwel (Helliwell, 2001) perhaps, is the only author who attempted to analyse international (Helliwell, 2001) and interpersonal difference in subjective wellbeing while making use of data from three waves of the World Value Survey covering about Conglomerate Radar of Happiness in Bhutan fifty different countries. The study uses large international samples of data combining individual and societal level determinants of wellbeing. The study establishes the link among social capital, education, income and wellbeing. It also identifies the direct and indirect linkage between social capital and wellbeing. Happiness depends on a lot more than people’s purchasing power. It depends on tastes which people acquire from environment and on the whole social context in which we all live.
Therefore, situation pertaining to income, work, family, and health do contribute to happiness and they also account for the overall happiness rating/index. Layard’s discussion also focuses on factors pertaining to freedom, religion, trust, and morality as important facets of life resulting in upward movement in happiness index.
Layard and Helliwell’s study lends a great deal of support to the presumption of the present paper that establishing the link between individual and aggregate happiness is important, as both individual and societal factors determine the extent of rise or fall in wellbeing (happiness) index. It also makes sense to compare aggregate happiness with that of individual happiness in relation to their determinants. It is in this light that the next section takes up the analysis of available data and the presentation of results.
Section III: Estimation and results Data and methodology The data used for analysis in the present study has been taken from the Planning Commission, Thimphu, which collected from the recently concluded standard of living survey and census enumeration. Most data are taken from unpublished sources and pertain to the survey year of 2005. A two-pronged methodology followed for the analysis of data: conglomerative radar and econometric estimation.
Conglomerative radar is a diagrammatic representation of progress and provides a snapshot view of the structure, pace and gaps in progress. The radar is also helpful in understanding the relationship among competing aspects. The present study draws the radar for each district and also for 12 critical aspects of wellbeing including happiness. To ensure comparability in Towards Global Transformation attainments, the respective magnitudes have been scaled and normalised to take a value on a scale ranging from 0 to 5. The least achievement corresponds to 0 scale, while the best achievement is closer to 5. In constructing the scales desirable, norms have been adopted. However, in some cases the norms are self-selecting, e.g. computer usage, ownership of land, etc. The selection of indicators strictly followed the international norms (MDGs etc.) coupled with the Royal Government of Bhutan’s development policy and emphasis. The radar captures the relative contribution of different dimensions of wellbeing vis-à-vis happiness. The greater the shaded area of any indicator the better is the attainment on that indicator. Similarly, the more symmetrical the shaded portion of the radar, the more balanced are the attainments of different dimensions of wellbeing. A well balanced achievement radar would look more like a good diamond, and therefore, the goal of public policy should be to achieve a good looking development diamond.
The study also makes use of the econometric technique for estimating the cause-and-effect relationship, keeping happiness as dependent variable. The explanatory variables are the selected wellbeing indicators. The estimation has been done using SPSS software.