The Bhutanese are even happier
Bhutan is continually ranked as the happiest country in all of Asia, and one of the happiest countries in the world. But why? Perhaps it’s because, until recently, Bhutan shunned globalisation and isolated itself from the world. Indeed, up until a decade ago, Western dress and television were banned. And while Bhutan has finally embraced the 21st century (cable TV, mobile phones, and the internet are all now available), the Buddhist Kingdom’s desire to preserve its cultural values remains predominate.
Could the cheery outlook of the Bhutanese be down to the country’s unique approach to tourism? While Venice is sinking under the weight of 30 million foreign visitors a year, tourists are strictly limited in Bhutan — and those who visit have to pay up to US$250 a day for the privilege of staying.
One of the major factors influencing Bhutan’s high ranking on the happiness scale has to be because its population’s wellbeing is considered paramount. The Bhutanese take happiness seriously. When Bhutan opened up to globalisation, the government began measuring the country’s Gross National Happiness (GNH); Bhutan is the only place in the world that ranks GNH above GDP (Gross Domestic Product). The concept ensures that equal importance is given to non-economic aspects of wellbeing such as health, education, good governance, community vitality, and ecological diversity.
Since its inception a decade ago, the happiness census has been held three times. The most recent was in 2015 when, over five months, more than 7,000 Bhutanese were interviewed across the country. The results showed a total of 91.2 percent of Bhutanese were “narrowly, extensively, or deeply happy” while 43.4 percent of Bhutanese were found to be “extensively or deeply happy”, up from 40.9 percent in 2010.
But above all, you only have to immerse yourself in Bhutan’s gob-smacking surroundings to discover the reason behind the smiles. Nestled among the Himalayas, Bhutan is a land of rugged, glacier mountains, with snow-fed rivers watering the lush valleys below. Its diverse landscape and breathtaking scenery remain largely unspoilt — and uninhabited. Which may explain why Bhutan has one of the most stable ecosystems in the world, with very little environmental damage. Now that’s something to be happy about . . .