What can business learn from gross national happiness?

Workshop: Business & Happiness

Happiness is such an ephemeral concept, that it seems strange that it can be measured. Yet most of us have heard of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness (GNH) indicator. And in Randall Krantz, the leader of this workshop, we were treated one of the people closest to the formulation and application of this indicator. One of the limitations about the indicator I’ve discussed in the past is that it doesn’t work so well in other countries, making head-scratching economists disregard it for the most part as an indicator of true economic well-being. Through this workshop, we attempted to do just that – use GNH as a comparative indicator, but not across countries – across our different employers.

The exercise started with an exploration of what participants felt were the most important aspects of success in business, and happiness in life. Surprisingly to me at least, most aspects people picked for happiness related to psychological happiness and not health, or the environment. It struck me that the way people define happiness in their life depends so much on the context. This brings up more philosophical questions like – ‘how many people think ‘can I be happier?’ vs ‘Do I need to be happier’. This started unravelling the layers of the tempestuous concept of happiness.

Finally, we spoke about where to take the happiness concept, and how to apply it within an organisational context. For me, what was the most thought provoking was the question of whether at times ‘net happiness’ might remain the same if you have to sacrifice your own happiness for the sake of improving someone else’s. This links to an organisational setting as without this compromise, there could be a causal link between the growth in happiness and the increase in business success (measured by profit, in this case). It highlights the impact that having a ‘barometer’ to check employee motivation can keep them working in a sustainable manner. The example of a ‘happy’ employee that works 18 hour days helped us understand that this is not sustainable as even if you are ‘happy’ in such a situation, chances are that your family or partner will not be, and this is of course not a sustainable state of existence.

To conclude, we realised through Randall, and Mathieu Durrande, our other co-ordinator, that to have a ‘happy’ organisation, it is important to measure the right things, and in the end, strive to have ‘happy’ employees, in so far as the happiness itself can be sustainable.


By Avinash Bhavnani