Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland to measure wellbeing in bid to emulate 'happy' nation of Bhutan

By Rebecca Black

It's a tiny kingdom 2,000 miles away nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas that has reputedly cracked the secret to happiness.

But could Bhutan in Asia provide a blueprint for Northern Ireland's quest for prosperity?

Bhutan is believed to be the only country in the world to measure its citizens' happiness.

Since 1971 the country has measured prosperity through principles of gross national happiness (GNH) and the spiritual, physical, social and environmental health of its citizens.

In the last 20 years Bhutan has doubled life expectancy, enrolled almost 100% of its children in primary school and overhauled its infrastructure.

In 2012 the UN adopted Bhutan's call for a holistic approach to development, and is now considering ways that the GNH model can be replicated.

Now Northern Ireland is set to try and emulate Bhutan with a new report released today by the Carnegie UK Trust finding that focusing on wellbeing can drive social change, and parties are committed to putting wellbeing at the heart of Stormont.

The pledge from DUP Finance Minister Simon Hamilton and Sinn Fein finance committee chairman Daithi McKay comes as Carnegie publishes Measuring Wellbeing In Northern Ireland: A New Conversation For New Times.

Produced with The School of Law at Queen's University Belfast, the report says wellbeing should be embedded in the Programme for Government.

It argues the current focus on GDP (gross domestic product) as the sole measure of social progress ignores the failure of GDP as a measure of what really matters to the population.

Chief executive of the Carnegie UK Trust Martyn Evans said: "GDP is a good tool to see how healthy an economy may be but it is not very good when it comes to measuring the wellbeing of citizens."

Mr Evans said a wellbeing approach works well in the USA and in Scotland where he added it has "had a transformational effect on the ability of governments to deliver for citizens".

Co-author, QUB's John Woods, said: "The report notes that many of the outstanding post-conflict challenges are, at heart, questions of wellbeing.

"These range from the equalities challenge, mental and physical health, community safety and resilience, inter-generational educational under-achievement and failures in environmental governance."

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Many countries use gross domestic product (GDP) – a country's total output – as its measure of its wealth.

It attempts to capture the state of the economy in one number. The report says that current focus on GDP as the sole measure of social progress ignores the failure of GDP as a measure of what really matters to the population. Wellbeing adds a wide range of issues that affect people's everyday lives including health, housing, education, employment, environment, safety, leisure, democratic participation.

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