Bhutan has won international recognition for its emphasis on Gross National Happiness (GNH). However, recognizing the importance of GNH does not guarantee its full attainment. So, the question arises of how Bhutan can increase existing levels of GNH. I believe two useful approaches to achieving this goal are using knowledge stemming from already existing research, assuming that appears reasonable given the cultural context in which that research was conducted, and conducting carefully targeted research within Bhutan. I illustrate this contention by providing examples of the ways in which social psychological research can contribute to GNH.
Good health is an important component of GNH. As lifestyle diseases become common, proactive efforts to persuade individuals to make healthy decisions become crucial for promoting health. This is basically a matter of successful behavior change - a major focus of social psychological research. One excellent example of an effective widely used strategy based on research is entertainment education- using TV and radio to convey public health messages through the plot of programming designed to appeal to the audience as entertainment. Properly planned information campaigns, based on research supported principles of behavior change, can also be useful.
Good governance is one of the four pillars of GNH. Studies of governmental decision-making in other countries suggests that even intelligent, educated and well-intentioned officials may succumb to group think- the tendency to suppress conflicting information and opinion in order to maintain harmony within the decision-making group. This undermines good decision-making. Fortunately, research also suggests straightforward techniques to minimize group think.
Social psychological research can also contribute to community vitality, another domain of GNH. It suggests strategies that promote altruistic behavior as well as those that reduce conflict (e.g. see the Conflict Resolution Information Source on-line). Decades of research suggest numerous approaches to promoting positive cooperative social relationships and to resolving conflict at both the personal and group level.
In addition, the use of research methods that social psychology and other social sciences have developed, most especially quasi-experimental designs, would allow empirical assessment of the consequences of policies or programs intended to increase GNH in Bhutan before they are implemented nationally. Often, even well-thought-out policies or programs do not function as intended or have unintended side effects. So, using such research methods to compare the effectiveness of alternative approaches to a problem or to assess the actual outcomes of a pilot program before implementing that program throughout Bhutan could contribute importantly to ensuring that limited resources are used effectively.
Readers interested in a more detail on this topic can see my paper “The potential contributions of social psychological research to increasing GNH in Bhutan” in the first issue of the Bhutan Journal of Research and Development.