Supposedly Bhutan consistently ranks as one of the happiest countries in the world. Bhutan seems to have a reputation as a eco-friendly liberal paradise, and pages like this claim that their environmental and spiritual outlook makes them less materialistic and happier than most countries. The Bhutanese government even promotes the idea of Gross National Happiness (GNH) as being, according to Wikipedia, "a commitment to building an economy that would serve Bhutan's culture based on Buddhist spiritual values, instead of western material development gauged by gross domestic product (GDP)."

Is there a factual basis for these claims? I'm personally extremely skeptical since these claims seem to be serving the vested interests of the Bhutanese government while appealing to western new-age spiritual trends. I'm also aware that there are methodological issues with measuring happiness on a quantitative scale. Is there concrete evidence for or against their claims?


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Bhutan ranks 84 out of 157 in the World Happiness Report ((Download PDF for 2016 version), published by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network. This is based on 2013-2015 rankings for a Gallup poll using a Cantril ladder (self-ranking on a scale from 0-10). (The typical annual sample was 1,000 people per country).

There is also a Happy Planet Index compiled by the Global Footprint Network. Their 2016 dataset (Excel sheet) ranks Bhutan 56 out of 140, but that uses the same UN data together with 3 other factors: Life expectancy, Ecological footprint, and Inequality of outcomes.

Note 1: Bhutan ranked 79 in 2015

Note 2: Here is statistician Nic Marks's TED talk about the Happy Planet Index.


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