Measurements of happiness are often tied to culture. The sufficiency economy philosophy rooted in Thai policies is no exception.
Gross domestic product is arguably the most commonly used measurement of productivity and growth, but it ignores one key element of society — our wellbeing.
In Thailand, successive governments have emphasised the importance of balancing economic and social development with conservation and the environment.
The focus on reducing inequalities by moderation goes back to a pearl of Thai wisdom introduced by the late King Bhumibol called a ‘sufficiency economy’, following the economic devastation brought about by the 1997 Asian financial crisis.
It aims to guide the lives and behaviour of people at all levels — from families and communities through to national development and public administration.
Attitudes, behaviours, belief systems and moral values are a core part of many Thai people’s lives.
The sufficiency economy philosophy has since been incorporated into several policies, including Thailand’s 20-year National Strategy — the country’s first long-term strategy to achieve “security, prosperity and sustainability”.
Based on the philosophy, the ultimate outcome of Thai public administration is to ensure public servants’ happiness so it trickles into other aspects of their lives, but there is still a long way to go before we can see concrete results.
The Thai Government has been attempting to collate data on the wellbeing of its people for more than 20 years.
But so far, its applications in formulating policies, management and public administration have not been unified and there are few practical results. Happiness is often tied to culture.
The ultimate goal of Buddhist practice is spiritual happiness, characterised by freedom from craving, different from the type of happiness often conceptualised in Western social science.
As a majority Buddhist country, virtues of tolerance and coexistence also strongly influence people’s resilience and levels of happiness.
This is specifically measured by the state of their family life, quality of community life and work life, according to a 2017 study, where the state of their work life was seen as the biggest contributor to their happiness.
A Thai Happiness Index developed in 2019 used data from more than 6,000 people across 13 provinces gathered in 2017 and 2018. It measured happiness based on how sufficient people felt different aspects of their lives were.
It found many people are completely happy without achieving sufficiency across all aspects of their lives, which included how they felt about their quality of life, the government and their standard of living.
People might have financial challenges or limited education but it did not prove detrimental to their overall happiness.The living standards enjoyed today could be enjoyed by future generations.
But policies and government action are still needed to improve the areas where people feel their lives are lacking. A sufficiency economy considers people’s and the government’s ability to protect themselves against internal and external impacts.
It requires knowledge — prudence and caution, as well as academic consultation at every step of planning and operation. There must also be an awareness of ethics — including morals, honesty, integrity, diligence, patience and wisdom.
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These core beliefs will need to be well incorporated in every aspect of government policy to truly make a difference in improving wellbeing and happiness.A content population has many advantages over one that is not.
Happy citizens create more social capital, work harder, are healthier and are more self-sufficient. Everyone plays a part.
Kalayanee Senasu is a professor of economics (human resource management) in the Graduate School of Human Resource Development, National Institute of Development Administration, Thailand. Her research focuses on happiness, quality of life, and sufficiency economy philosophy.
She declares no conflict of interest.
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