Happiness is important in the small Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. So much so that its government is doubling the pay of teachers with 10 years of experience, to both boost contentment and the country’s education system, according to AFP.

Medical staff will also receive a significant pay increase as part of a package of measures that will place teachers and doctors among the country’s highest paid civil servants.

The move was put forward by prime minister Lotay Tshering, a doctor and surgeon himself. The pay hikes attempt to deliver on election promises to reduce inequality and improve health and education for the country’s 750,000 population.

Experience counts

Bhutan’s teaching profession has suffered in recent years, with poor pay and conditions making it one of the least sought-after positions in the civil service. In 2018, more than 4% of teachers left their jobs, and most resigned voluntarily. Many of the more experienced or highly trained were replaced by less experienced teachers.

Similar staff attrition rates affected the country’s medical profession.

“As pledged, our focus is on according due motivation to the teachers, while also improving the quality of the profession, which in turn will benefit our education system”, Prime Minister Tshering said earlier this month.

Salary is just one aspect, he noted: “As part of our flagship programs, we are also targeting capacity building and career advancement for teachers.”

Image: Prime Minister’s Office, Bhutan via Facebook

Measuring success

The move is an attempt to encourage new recruits and make it easier to retain experienced teachers in a country with a number of social problems, including corruption, rural poverty and high rates of youth unemployment.

Bhutan’s health minister, Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo, sees investment in quality teachers as a means of developing good students, who will have a positive future impact on the country. But success in this remote nation is viewed with different criteria than that used by many other countries.

Most countries measure their development in terms of Gross National Product (GNP) – the value of goods and services produced. In Bhutan, this has been replaced with a policy of Gross National Happiness (GNH), which values citizens’ happiness over economic performance.

The World Health Organization has warned depression will be the leading cause of the global disease burden by 2030. So happiness may be a more fitting indicator of a country’s success than economic progress.

Other countries are beginning to appreciate the value of encouraging happy citizens. Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, for example, has a Minister of State for Happiness and Wellbeing, and New Zealand’s 2019 budget includes a broader set of measures that put citizens’ wellbeing at the centre of policy-making.

Image: United Nations Development Programme

The United Nations’ Human Development Index compares how factors like health, education and income impact people’s lives in different countries around the world. Although many of these factors are linked to happiness, the HDI definition also includes measures like life expectancy and economics.

Norway ranked highest on the UN's 2018 HDI, but Bhutan ranked just 134th out of 189 countries.