OK. Let’s get this clear – Bhutan is NOT the happiest place in the world!

OK. Let’s get this clear – Bhutan is NOT the happiest place in the world!

by Dr Tim Sharp 

Time and time again, I’ve heard and/or read that Bhutan is the happiest country in the world.

I don’t mean to disrespect or slander Bhutan but…this is, quite simply, not true.

They’ve never claimed to be the happiest country in the world; and the research has never suggested they are!

So why does this mistake continue to be propagated?

Because Bhutan was the first county to set aside GDP (Gross Domestic Product – an economic measure of “prosperity”) and effectively replace it with GDH (Gross Domestic Happiness – a measure of psychological prosperity or wellbeing).

As a result, they definitely deserve credit for measuring and prioritising happiness; but this doesn’t mean they’re the happiest.

It’s possibly more accurate to say that Denmark is the happiest country in the world. Although different surveys have found different countries topping their lists in recent years, there’s no doubt that the Danes repeatedly come at, or near the top of almost all the surveys.

Yet at the same time, Denmark has extremely high rates of suicide and depression. The Danes are taxed extremely highly and they divorce quite frequently.

How can this make sense?

Well, quite simply, because what these large scale international comparison surveys measure is not really “happiness” as we know it. More accurately, they measure something closer to “quality of life”; and the “scores” are based on factors such as access to education and public health and public transport.

Now clearly these variables are important and worth of measurement; but they’re not really the sorts of things most of us would consider if we were asked the question “Are you happy?”

Why is any of this relevant?

Because the point I’m trying to make is that “GDH” and “quality of life” and “wellbeing” and “happiness” are all different constructs; and even “happiness” is measured differently in different studies. So we need to be very careful about how we understand these terms and how we interpret the results of any or all of these research investigations.

But here’s the really important point for most of you reading this now…what it also means is that YOU get to create your own definition of happiness! Just as these different concepts have been defined and measured differently in various studies, so too can you define and measure happiness or success or health or wellbeing however YOU want to define.

And I’d even go a step further by stating that I don’t believe anyone can ever be REALLY happy unless they create their own definitions of success and happiness; because if you try to live someone else’s definition you’ll almost certainly fail to achieve or enjoy the outcome.

So if not Bhutan or Denmark then where is the happiest place in the world? Well, I guess it’s where ever you want it to be or where ever you make it be!