A measure of Bhutan’s well-being, interview with Dasho Karma Ura

 A measure of Bhutan’s well-being, interview with Dasho Karma Ura

Dasho Larma Ura worked for 12 years for the Ministry of Planning prior to becoming the Director of the Center for Bhutan Studies (CBS) since its creation in 1999.


The CBS is a cross-disciplinary research institute on social sciences which works on social, cultural, economic and political well-being in Bhutan. The organization studies the Bhutanese indicator, the Growth National Happiness and produce analysis reports.

YPA: Personally, what does “well-being” mean to you?

DKU: After all the other conditions are met, well-being can be created by a combination of good sleep, emotional peace, meditation and some exercise every day. That will create well-being at a personal level. There is also a long-term idea about well-being, you should have education, health, income, a good family, a good environment… you know, go to New Zealand, go to the United States for work, go to Japan to die, [be free] etc. This is a long-term idea about well-being. But well-being is also generated on a moment by moment basis, so the best scale and the period for looking at well-being is also twenty-four hours. So, if I don’t sleep tonight, if I don’t do any physical exercise and stay without moving for a whole day, or if I allow myself to be emotionally disturbed by exposing myself to that experience, tomorrow I won’t have well-being. So, you have to take care, hour by hour, day by day.

YPA: Which are the direct and indirect impacts of Growth National Happiness in the Bhutanese society?

DKU: Direct impact is on media, government policy, and the education system. In all these three, there is a lot of discussion about Gross National Happiness but the real impact has to be felt in the improvement and experience of ordinary people, and that is the real indirect effect.

YPA: Which is your personal opinion about this forum, especially on the format, the workshops and the participative methodology?

DKU: The workshops are very rich and grand with the international participation. The method here is very much about discussions, it is the French style I think (laugh). The setting of a university is also preferable because all the facilities are there. But the main thing is that it is a good place for developing network, network of people sharing their ideas. These two things are the main things about any conference, so you can become known to each other and you pick up ideas.

YPA: How would you describe the progress and changes of the GNH indicator since you have started to work on it?

DKU: In the process of surveys, conducted to generate the data for the indicator, we understand people more and more, so one benefit for the research and the researchers is deepening the understanding of people’s lives. It is not possible to do it with any other method, to understand the population as a whole, except through this kind of intensive and diverse questionaire of the GNH indicator. It is worth it.

Governments and societies spent billions on other methods, and this, comparatively speaking, is so miniscule, expending each other to obtain the understanding of the people, so it is worth it. We ask questions on various aspects of life including how you spend your twenty-four hours, like money, you have twenty-four hours to spend, how your day is in terms of quality and quantity, decided by how you spend one thousand four hundred and forty four minutes you have in every twenty-four hours. I’m just giving an example but you can get a detailed understanding about the way people feel about their lives, and this is the very basis of a government.

Governments must have ideas about how you are feeling inside, how your mood is changing through the day, how your health condition is, what sorts of assets you have, what is your impact and interaction with the environment, what sort of cultural activities you are engaged in your life. All these things are the very basis on which government decisions must be built, not just on the bases of factory activities and business behaviors. This is only one aspect of the life of the people. So, governments should have interests in funding this kind of survey and then being influenced positively by the result of the survey to make decisions about the public expenditure. Since government collects tax from you and they spend it, they should consult this database and these findings, so that is why it is very useful.

YPA: How can the Bhutanese experience help at transforming the global society?

DKU: In terms of ecological conservation, Bhutan is ahead of others, and that comes from the care for the wildlife, the care for the forests, partly maybe because the population of Bhutan is very low but also it very much has conservation-oriented ethics. That they can look at Bhutan as some sort of inspiration. The other thing about Bhutanese and Bhutan that can be some sort of place for picking up ideas is the lifestyle, a low-consumption lifestyle and a stressless lifestyle. But maybe many other countries are advanced in other aspects.

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