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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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Women of Ghara

It may not be heaven on earth, but it’s as close as any place we know.

Check Out Our Sample Bhutan Itineraries:

  • The Masked Dance Festivals of Bhutan

    • This itinerary can be done throughout the year, using different valleys and festivals as the main focal point. These festivals are often gathering points for not only foreigners but locals as well - the people viewing can often be just as fascinating as watching the dances themselves!

  • Gangkar Punsum: The World's Tallest Unclimbed Peak

    • Our answer to the Chomolhari Trek! Why go all the way to Bhutan to do a trek that is over-crowded by any standards? This trek offers great views, few (if any) other trekkers on the trail, a chance to step foot on the base camp of the worlds tallest unclimbed peak and a wonderful chance to get into the heart of Bhutan.

  • Trekking Laya & Lunana

    • Ass-Kicking Strenuous. This is one of the hardest treks in the Himalaya and offers amazing off-the-beaten path access to rarely seen valleys and corners of this kingdom.

Check Out Our Other Destinations Too!