Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Is Gross National Happiness more important than the GDP?


Happiness vs. Money: The Showdown
Amputees' happiness tends to return to pre-event levels within about three years; same goes for lottery winners.
Amputees' happiness tends to return to pre-event levels within about three years; same goes for lottery winners.
China Photos/Getty Images

Is gross national happiness more important than gross domestic product? That's a tough question, but the usefulness of GNH has a leg up for two reasons. Money has a dichotomous nature; it can bring happiness and sadness, security and insecurity -- usually depending on how much or how little cash you have. Happiness has a more singular nature: It brings only, well, happiness. In addition, studies consistently show that happy workers are more productive than depressed or stressed ones [source: Rost]. After all, Bhutan's economic activity must still generate enough revenue to pay for services like health care, education and infrastructure and its population must still buy food and clothing.

Even beyond the benefits that a focus on happiness can provide an economy, strong evidence suggests that happiness is simply more important than money. For years, surveys investigating life satisfaction of individuals based on their income showed mixed results. Some show people with more money do tend to be happier; others show there isn't much difference. In fact, one 2006 Princeton study measured actual life experiences against satisfaction over one's life as a whole. The study showed that wealthier individuals showed almost the same amount of happiness during certain life experiences as the poorer ones, though they still reported higher life satisfaction [source: Quinones].

Sudden and large influxes of cash don't appear to have much impact either. Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert found that after about three years, amputees and lottery winners have about the same level of happiness, having returned to their natural state of happiness after their respective gains or losses [source: Rowe]. The World Values Survey points out that while income has skyrocketed in developed nations compared to their pre-World War II levels, the levels of happiness found in those countries have remained nearly static. The survey, conducted annually in nations around the world, found that materialism appears to be "a happiness suppressant" [source: BBC].

It would appear that the victor in this happiness-or-money battle depends largely on an individual's mindset. What makes us happy is subjective; the Bhutanese acknowledge this. "Happiness is an individual pursuit," the Bhutanese secretary of communications told the New York Times [source: Mydans]. For an entire society to agree to buck the global trend and collectively pursue happiness over money, then, is all the more remarkable.