San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rica Looks to Bhutan for Happiness

Costa Rica is consulting with Bhutan about how to remain among the happiest places on earth.

A small landlocked country of 680,000 inhabitants, the Kingdom of Bhutan is located in South Asia in the Himalayan mountains, and is the only country that measures happiness the way others measure their gross domestic product.

Bhutan began measuring the country’s gross national happiness (GNH) in 2008. That year’s national census included the question, “Are you happy?” – to which 97 percent answered, “Yes.”

“If you want to manage (happiness), you have to be able to measure it,” said Karma Tshiteem, secretary of Bhutan’s GNH commission, who spoke Saturday, May 29 in San José. He explained that the Bhutanese government started tracking its people’s happiness in order to ensure the nation’s health. Seeing things through the lens of GNH instead of GDP, he said, offers new opportunities for development as a country.

But how does one go about measuring happiness?

After the 2008 census, the commission began collecting data in nine general areas, using 72 indicators to study nearly every aspect of its peoples’ lives. The index looks at how the Bhutanese spend their time; their involvement in cultural activities; their perceptions of the government, health and education; and their sense of safety and psychological well-being. In a recent survey, when asked, “How often do you feel frustrated?” a mere 4.6 percent answered “often.” Less than 2.6 percent said they felt selfish “often,” and the vast majority responded that they never feel that way.

Bhutan also looks at more conventional indicators to measure happiness, such as household income, life expectancy, literacy and the environment.

In one study, the commission learned that less than 10 percent spend time inmeditation, which prompted them to introduce meditation in schools.

Tshiteem said it’s too early to tell how the commission’s three years of work has affected the lives people in Bhutan.

Asked for his advice to Costa Rica, Tshiteem responded that many of the measurements taken in Bhutan and the priorities of his country are not foreign to Costa Rica.

Pointing to Costa Rica’s slogan, “Pura Vida,” he said, “The things we are talking about, Costa Rica is doing.”

Audience members expressed interest in measuring the GNH of Costa Rica.

Costa Rica recently topped a list of countries with the highest life satisfaction compiled by the United Kingdom-based New Economics Foundation, “an independent think-and-do tank that inspires and demonstrates real economic well-being,” according to their website. Ticos can now look to Bhutan for tips on how to remain in first place.

See the website of Bhutan’s GNH Commission at

-Chrissie Long

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