The High Cost of Happiness

Happiest place on earth (and it's not Disneyland)

Happiest place on earth (and it’s not Disneyland)

Behind the snow-capped mountains lies a country steeped in culture and contentment. In present day the people of Bhutan still protect their way of life all the while embracing the challenges modern technology bring. This week’s celebration of Earth Day fueled a long-standing interest in a country that seemingly effortlessly thrives on happiness and nature.

In 2012 the UN Climate Change Conference was held in Doha where leaders the world over asked a simple question: How does the happiest country on the planet keep up environmental and economic sufficiency?

Bhutan holds more than 800,000 residents and, on average, 7,000 tourists yearly. This little known country has intentionally kept to itself, but for the past decade or two they’ve begun to emerge from their self-imposed seclusion to share their wisdom with the world. Finding a balance between traveling to other countries and learning from other cultures all the while maintaining your rich heritage is no small feat.

The introduction of internet and television came in 1999 and by 2002 only about 1,000 of the country’s 800,000 residents were connected  to the outside world. At that time only 70% of the population had electricity and internet café’s were only just beginning to pop up in the capital Thimphu.

Truly amazing woman, photographer, and world traveler, Kellie Netherwood, captures the essence of every country she visits. Find her here at

Truly amazing woman, photographer, and world traveler, Kellie Netherwood, captures the essence and soul of every country she visits. Find her here at

This peek into the world at large garnered insight and desire for progress. Soon Bhutan’s strict importation guidelines faced new challenges and concerns. Eventually King Wangchuck welcomed the new world with open arms, but struggled to support his people’s happiness as greed and jealousy soon became an issue.

Gross National Happiness vs. Gross National Crabbiness

Money makes the world go round or so they say. King Wangchuck’s predecessor, his father, the fourth King of Bhutan, King Wangchuck, introduced Gross National Happiness in the 1970’s. His concept as stated on their website,, states:

“The concept implies that sustainable development should take holistic approach towards notions of progress and give equal importance to non-economic aspects of wellbeing. The concept of GNH has often been explained by its four pillars: good governance, sustainable socio-economic development, cultural preservation, and environmental conservation. Lately the four pillars have been further classified into nine domains to create widespread understanding of GNH and to reflect the holistic range of GNH values. The nine domains are: psychological wellbeing, health, education, time use, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience, and living standards. The domains represents each of the components of wellbeing of the Bhutanese people, and the term ‘wellbeing’ here refers to fulfilling conditions of a ‘good life’ as per the values and principles laid down by the concept of Gross National Happiness.” 

Photo courtesy of Visit their site for exquisite photos and tour information.

Photo courtesy of rated by National Geographic as one of the 50 Tours of a Lifetime.

The concept is particularly luring as I look out to the busy city streets and contemplate a life less hurried and filled with things I don’t actually need. In our race for the title of Leading Nation we’ve lost our once tree-lined path. Now our feet the pavement as we stride toward progress. We fill our homes, and our lives, with belongings we don’t truly need just for societal acceptance. Our children, as well as ourselves, are fueled by depression and bitterness over our inability to purchase the next It thing before our neighbor or friend.

Every day media bombards us in every format – cell phones, television, internet, radio – that we’re unable to effectively process the information being freely given. We’re so disconnected with our lives by remaining continuously connected we’re suffering from an overload of information. We feel empathy toward our fellow-man, yet we rarely lend him a helping hand.

As I sit typing this I think of my own 1,200 square foot home, modest by some standards, a mansion by less opulent communities from around the world, filled with needful things. And yet the malcontent at the loss of nature and humanity is still present. When will we, as a western society, learn that possessions can’t fill the void?

Peace and Prosperity

Money does indeed make the world go round and as people the world over felt the impact of the global recession I, too, join in asking could King Wangchuck’s concept of happiness actually be successful?

Photo courtesy of Shanti Travel for all your travel needs visit

Photo courtesy of Shanti Travel for all your travel needs visit

In 2011 the UN replicated Bhutan’s holistic developmental concept and backed by 68 countries in hopes of heeding Bhutan’s ominous projection that the world is on collision course set of self-destruction unless immediate action is taken.

Like locusts the human species is rapidly increasing devouring natural resources than we can duplicate them. Bhutan’s king has placed a cap on economic development in the form of environmentalism. King Wangchuck has halted export logging and placed a ban on private vehicles on all roads one day a month. Additionally a minimum of 60% of Bhutan’s land must remain natural and carbon neutral. With 8 billion people on the planet replicating these decrees would be nearly impossible for countries such as the US.

Paradise Screwed

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

A serious issue the people of Bhutan face is the effects of the environment. Though protected by their own efforts the rest of the worlds actions have reached deep into paradise. The changing weather has created havoc for farmers. Rains fall at the wrong time of year damaging crops, warmer summers invite insects infesting crops, and no snow in the winter create possibilities of draughts. With 70% of Bhutanese being farmers the world’s carbon footprint is crushing a developing country.

With the UN and 68 countries in tow looking toward Bhutan for the solution to survival the leading countries of the world need to stop discussing the issues humanity faces and start lending our neighbors a helping hand.

Bhutan vs. the World

The people of Bhutan claim they feel “human” and “connected” to the planet. Yet the rest of us outside of the last Shangri-La are busy multitasking ourselves into the grave. We walk among our fellow-man like mindless Zombies unaware of the human lives we touch. Of course there is a certain amount of awareness, but to what extent? Can you recall the last in-depth conversation you had that left you feeling renewed and enriched? Nor can I.

Progress is vital to mankind’s survival. It technically improves our lives ensuring we’re able to grow beyond our current reaches and lead a richer, more rewarding life. Isn’t that what the people of Bhutan are already doing but with less technology?

Photo courtesy of Shanti Travel,

Photo courtesy of Shanti Travel,

“Just as Alice, when she walked through the looking-glass, found herself in a new and whimsical world, so we, when we crossed the Pa Chu, found ourselves as though caught up on some magic time machine fitted fantastically with a reverse.” Lord Ronaldshay, British governor of Bengal, 1921

This entry was posted in Bhutan, Culture, Economics, Environment, Family, Happiness, Travel and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The High Cost of Happiness

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s