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Rural Bhutan Sees Improvement in Happiness Index, While Urban Areas Stagnate

โ€ฆ๐’‚ ๐’„๐’๐’๐’”๐’†๐’“ ๐’†๐’™๐’‚๐’Ž๐’Š๐’๐’‚๐’•๐’Š๐’๐’ ๐’“๐’†๐’—๐’†๐’‚๐’๐’” ๐’‚ ๐’”๐’Š๐’ˆ๐’๐’Š๐’‡๐’Š๐’„๐’‚๐’๐’• ๐’Š๐’Ž๐’‘๐’“๐’๐’—๐’†๐’Ž๐’†๐’๐’• ๐’Š๐’ ๐’“๐’–๐’“๐’‚๐’ ๐‘ฎ๐‘ต๐‘ฏ ๐’”๐’Š๐’๐’„๐’† 2010, ๐’Š๐’๐’…๐’Š๐’„๐’‚๐’•๐’Š๐’๐’ˆ ๐’‚ ๐’‘๐’“๐’๐’Ž๐’Š๐’”๐’Š๐’๐’ˆ ๐’•๐’“๐’†๐’๐’…

Phurpa Wangmo

In a comprehensive analysis of regional trends of Gross National Happiness, it has been found that urban areas in Bhutan consistently maintain higher levels of Gross National Happiness (GNH) than their rural counterparts. However, a closer examination reveals a significant improvement in rural GNH since 2010, indicating a promising trend. Meanwhile, urban areas have experienced no significant change in happiness index over the same period.

The data from the GNH Index shows that urban GNH values were consistently higher than rural GNH values throughout years of studies. In 2010, urban GNH stood at 0.786, compared to rural GNH at 0.715. Similarly, in 2015, urban GNH was recorded at 0.811, while rural GNH was slightly lower at 0.731. By 2022, urban GNH remained relatively stable at 0.796, while rural GNH improved to 0.771. Notably, rural GNH experienced a substantial increase of 0.041 in 2022 compared to 2015.

According to the 2022 GNH Survey Report, the incidence of happiness among the population also varied between rural and urban regions. Between 2015 and 2022, the proportion of happy individuals in rural areas rose significantly by 8.3 percentage points, increasing from 38.1% to 46.4%. In contrast, urban regions witnessed a decline of 4 percentage points, with the incidence of happy people decreasing from 54.6% to 50.5%.

Examining the sufficiency levels of not-yet-happy individuals, it was found that rural dwellers experienced a slight increase of 0.8 percentage points in average sufficiency. Conversely, no significant change was observed in urban regions. Although urban areas often boast better access to resources, services, and higher economic output compared to rural areas, the analysis suggests that GNH does not necessarily improve for urban dwellers over time.

The stagnation in urban areas may be attributed to factors such as rural-urban migration during the study period and the greater impact of pandemic measures on urban populations. Nevertheless, this underlines the need for policy priorities to address the stagnant GNH in urban areas. Unfortunately, a regional comparison based on population shares was not feasible due to the lack of regional population projections for 2010 and 2015. However, further examination of indicator patterns and sufficiency levels sheds light on the nuanced dynamics between rural and urban areas.

The findings also emphasize the complexity of well-being and happiness, which are influenced by a wide range of indicators beyond economic and resource-based measures such as GDP. Rural regions, for instance, tend to cultivate a stronger sense of social support and community, contributing to higher levels of well-being. Additionally, the proximity to nature and access to green spaces, more prevalent in rural areas, positively impacts well-being. Conversely, urban areas may experience negative factors such as higher pollution levels, noise, and stress, which can outweigh the benefits of urban living. Therefore, it is crucial to consider multiple factors and indicators when assessing well-being in both rural and urban areas, as the GNH Index is designed to do.

Analyzing the sufficiency levels of the 33 indicators, it was observed that rural residents consistently demonstrated higher sufficiency levels compared to urban residents. For instance, in the life satisfaction indicator under the psychological wellbeing domain, 81.7% of rural people were sufficient in 2010, slightly dropping to 79.1% in 2015, and rising to 80.9% in 2022. Similarly, rural residents displayed higher sufficiency in the native language indicator (95% across all three time periods), sleep indicator (70.3% in 2010, 70.2% in 2022), donation indicator (53.4% in 2010, 49.8% in 2015, 54.5% in 2022), and community relationships indicator (72.1% in 2010, 55.5% in 2022).

On the other hand, urban areas exhibited higher sufficiency in the metrics of living standards, such as household per capita income and housing. Over time, rural areas experienced steady improvements in household per capita income (40% in 2010 to 61% in 2022) and housing sufficiency (33.6% in 2010, 46.9% in 2015, 61% in 2022). However, urban areas faced lower sufficiency in ecological issues, including river pollution, air pollution, noise pollution, waste disposal, littering, landslide, soil erosion, and floods. Notably, Bhutanese population, regardless of residence, displayed lower levels of concern about environmental issues.

These findings accentuate the multi-dimensional nature of GNH and the significance of considering diverse indicators beyond economic measures. As Bhutan persists in its pursuit of holistic development and well-being, comprehending the regional trends in GNH offers valuable insights for policymaking and resource allocation.

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