In Bhutan, the measurement for standard of living isn’t the typical GDP that the vast majority of countries use. Instead it is the GNH, gross national happiness that Bhutan uses to track how its inhabitants increase their standard of living. Unlike GDP, which only measures the economic wealth of the country, GNH takes into account categories such as environmental, physical, workplace and social wellness. Bhutan’s belief is that GDP only measures production and consumption, two factors that ignore qualities necessary for a sustainable lifestyle, both in terms and of social health and stability and environmental health and stability.
Bhutan is not alone in stating that the ranking of happiness is an important indicator of a nation’s progress. Some European governments and provincial Canadian governments already incorporate this notion into their measurement of progress. Recently, Nicolas Sarkosy of France led an initiative to have GNH at the center of French national policy. In 2008, UNICEF sponsored a paper by the New Economics Foundation, which outlined why GNH is a method of measurement that quantifies real economic well-being. Even in the United Sates, the question of GDP as an accurate indicator was brought out as early as 1968 by Robert Kennedy. He stated, “ The Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and… the destruction of the redwoods and the loss of our national wonder in chaotic sprawl… Yet [it] does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play… the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages… it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”
Only measuring human progress and, in turn, business practices by GDP depicts people as purely economic actors rather than ones that are motivated by altruism and pro-social behavior states Tania Singer, Director of Social Neuroscience at the Max Plank institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Germany’s foremost research organization. She writes that vast amounts of neuro-scientific evidence contradict the emphasis on individualism present in Western societies and in our measurements of progress like GDP. Research suggests, on the other hand, that the human brain is wired for affective resonance and that people naturally reflect each other’s emotions and motivational states. By seeking actions to encourage cooperation and caring, she believes, that people and, by default, businesses can reduce depleting their employees’ individual resources and contributing to ineffective work/life balance.
Singer goes on to show that directed mental training in cognition and social relational skills like attention, compassion and empathy can improve participants’ social relatedness. This type of training produces physical benefits as well by making participants more efficient and focused and less depleted by stress. In business, this type of training will produce a working group easily able to collaborate and less fractured by competitive politics. In other words, the training creates a sustainable workforce of human resources.
Salary, like family time, social outlets and hobbies, contribute to one’s overall well-being, as thus, is part of GNH. GDP, on the other hand, only measures salary and the goods and services that one can purchase with the salary – quite a different picture from the robust portrait we would like to have for our lives. GDP deals with what we can buy whereas GNH deals with who we are. So, in addition to looking at the budget spreadsheet, try to calculate what factors would contribute to your employees’ GNH. You will see the employee as a whole person, not a cost/benefit ratio on the spreadsheet.