Since 1971 Bhutan has been measuring the prosperity of its people based on how happy they are, rather than on their gross domestic product. The Guardian have a nice piece on it here. For the last 40 years, this tiny Buddhist state has been measuring its citizen’s Gross National Happiness based on a range of 33 measures across 9 different domains. These measures range from health and education through to use of time, cultural diversity and community vitality. Read the complete explanation here.
In addition to the actual measures, there are some important aspects of the way those measures are taken, summarised below:
- Sufficiency: there is not ‘poverty line’ below which people are unhappy. Instead, each domain has its own achievement target. Achieve that level and you have a score which is deemed ‘sufficient’ for being happy. Here is the important part … Over achievement is not captured! Here is what they have to say on this.
The Gross National Happiness Index takes the position that beyond a certain point, we don’t need to keep adding in higher achievements to the quality of life mechanically; we confine our attention somewhat to a middle band of achievements that contribute significantly to human wellbeing for most people.
- Diversity: The happiness measure is shown as a single number based on the target for each household to achieve 66% happiness, i.e. 6 out of 9 domains. It doesn’t matter which ones. This allows for diversity, and for the concept that not all measures will apply to the entire population.
- Aggregation: By aggregating results, the overall incentive is to bring as many people as possible into achieving happiness. This is very different from the western approach of rewarding the overachievement of a very few (the super rich) to the detriment of the whole.
- Trends: Looking at trends over time, the nation can focus on key domains in need of attention.
What does this mean for business?
What if we took this approach to measuring the prosperity of our businesses? What if we were to create a Business Happiness Index? The first thing to do is to reframe the problem we are trying to solve by measuring our business success. We are pretty well primed to framing our concept of business success around finance. How profitable are we, what is our return on equity, and how much more profit and equity can we expect to make in the near future as we grow the business? Taking a leaf out of Bhutan’s book we might challenge these assumptions, and come up with something like this:
- A business is successful if it creates happiness. For a business, it’s population would include its staff, partners, suppliers, customers, and in the community it operates within.
Okay, let’s assume we are onto something here. How would we go about measuring this? Bhutan looked to nine domains its people could achieve happiness in. If they were achieving sufficiently well in 6 out of 9 of these domains, they are considered happy. Here is a summary of this explanation for 8 of the domains, and this collection of metrics across all 9 domains. I think it provides a great basis for how we might measure the happiness of our businesses and those who come into contact with them:
- Psychological wellbeing: are people experiencing positive emotions such as compassion, generosity and calmness; and fewer negative emotions such as anger and frustration? Bhutan also look to spiritual wellbeing on the basis that if material growth has occurred at the expense of spiritual growth, and the compassion and integrity with which it is associated, then development has not occurred.
- Health: Bhutan looks beyond the absence of illness to consider the physical, mental and social health of its people. What if we were to do that for our businesses? What if we were to expand that view to those who come into contact with our businesses too? Maybe we would start seeing businesses which actively contribute to the physical, mental and social health of those who work their and the communities they operate within.
- Education: the holistic view of education considers knowledge, values and skills as it seeks to understand if people are reaching their full potential in being good human beings. This includes the choices people make, and the values they demonstrate.
- Culture: for Bhutan there are a number of aspects to ‘being Bhutanese’ that are culturally important and they measure the extent to which their people are actively participating in these activities. This has a strong focus on identity, and what it means to be from Bhutan. How might this apply to our businesses whilst respecting the balance people often seek between work and home lives? What about those for whom there is no boundary, where work includes those life improving activities that people genuinely want to be part of? I think I am looking beyond the company christmas party and more towards those organisations where workers are actually friends, and go do fun stuff together like hiking for the weekend or taking a boat out for an afternoon.
- Use of Time: this measure looks at the balance between paid work, unpaid work and leisure. We mostly call this work life balance.
- Governance: this complex measure looks to the effectiveness of central government and whether or not it is perceived to be doing the right thing. Key aspects include participation, transparency, accountability and consensus (the idea that you have been heard, and that you agree with the decisions being made)
- Community: this looks at social capital, and the behaviour of people in groups. Do they support and interact with each other positively? How have you helped people other than yourself recently? Also important are aspects of family and the wider community (including charity), as well as feelings of safety.
- Ecological Diversity: Bhutan has a strong sense of the environment within which it operates, and the need to live in harmony with that environment. Key measures here include the level of noise, visual and physical pollution.
- Standard of Living: for Bhutan this focuses on housing, and a number of basic goods such as phones, electricity and refrigerators. I’m not sure how I feel about my place of work asking what size television I have but I do like the idea of at least considering whether or not everyone is enjoying some basic standard of living.
Coming back to the way in which these measures are taken, I really like the idea of measuring whether or not people are achieving happiness through work. And stopping the measurement once that level has been achieved. Tim Kastelle recently tweeted a great article on a poem by Kurt Vonnegut called “Joe Heller”, reproduced here in full:
True story, Word of Honor:
Joseph Heller, an important and funny writer
and I were at a party given by a billionaire
on Shelter Island.
I said, “Joe, how does it make you feel
to know that our host only yesterday
may have made more money
than your novel ‘Catch-22’
has earned in its entire history?”
And Joe said, “I’ve got something he can never have.”
And I said, “What on earth could that be, Joe?”
And Joe said, “The knowledge that I’ve got enough.”
Not bad! Rest in peace!”