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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Bhutan: Land of Gross National Happiness

All smiles in Paro

We've seen a spate of interest in Bhutan the past few years, and can't help but think that some of it is related to their stated national objective, Gross National Happiness. I mean, who wouldn't want to visit a place where happiness was the primary social and personal goal, and where, perhaps, one might be able to visit and have some of it rub off on them.

Having spent a great deal of time in Bhutan myself since 1984, I've spent a lot of time thinking about the concept. I even count Bhutan's Secretary of Gross National Happiness, Karma Tshiteem, a friend, and the group I brought to Bhutan this past October got to pick his brain over lunch. What I've come up with is the following.

A country's happiness is directly dependent on the happiness of its individual inhabitants. The happiness of each individual citizen is dependent on two key items: their own personal philosophy (in Bhutan's case a version of Tibetan Buddhism) and belief system, and secondly, family and social harmony. While it is possible to be happy in isolation, as exemplified by the Bhutanese monks who spend months or years meditating in caves, I believe one's happiness is greater when shared with members of one's family and community. In such a setting, it's practically contagious.

Looking back at what initially captured my spirit when I first visited Nepal in 1972, I realize it was the ubiquitous happiness that was evident in the faces, voices, and body language all around me. I'd never seen such happiness, and it was everywhere, despite the cliched Third World poverty. While there is still much happiness in Nepal today, overpopulation and a civil war have torn at the social fabric and caused a sharp reduction in this precious commodity. And while Bhutan is still considered one of the world's happiest places by people whose business it is to measure that immeasurable commodity, as it integrates more and more fully with the outside world, Gross National Happiness will certainly be put to the test. I can't get the words of one wise old Bhutanese out of my head, from my recent visit: "Gross National Happiness? Oh sure, we had it back in the 1990s and before that...."

 

Steve Conlon
~Above the Clouds

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Comments

Victoria FittsMilgrim, Sunday, January 22, 2012:
Hi Steve! You may remember me as the director of Breakaway Adventure Travel back in the 80's in Boston. I tried to set up an Arun Valley trek but it didn't come off but remember well our conversations and all your help! I love this article and am one of those fascinated by Bhutan. Am investigating a trip there towards the end of the year. What can you tell me about the dances (I am a former professional jazz dancer and have studied Classical Indian as well) and dates, as well as coming into Bhutan from India? Love to connect again. Old friends are always meant to rediscover a new relationship in the present! Victoria (formerly Vicki Milgrim back in the day...)

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