As much of the world struggles to climb out of a recession in which Gross National Product is the paramount concern, the tiny kingdom of Bhutan is more concerned with a different measure of well-being: Gross National Happiness.
Nestled against the Himalayas between Nepal & India, the Buddhist nation of 700,000 uses this concept as its official measure of the collective welfare. And it’s not just a gimmick: the country has adopted a complex system of assessing its people’s happiness, which it believes is more important for the state to foster than GNP, the common economic indicator that measures the sum of all goods and services produced by a nation.
Jigmi Thinley, Bhutan’s prime minister, says pursuing GNH is a more holistic approach to making society more resilient, promoting happiness through deliberate public policy and action. There are four pillars to this strategy: economic growth and development; preservation and promotion of culture and heritage; preservation and sustainable use of environment; and good governance. Each year, the government surveys the people to see how well it is doing in pursuit of its goal of happy citizens; typically, fewer than 5 percent say they are unhappy, while more than half are “very happy.”
Curious to experience a taste of such a society? Bhutan’s serene way of life and magnificent natural beauty make it a magnet for the traveler seeking an unusual destination. While its ancient Buddhist culture is a draw – the country is replete with intricately built monasteries that date back centuries and a host of colorful festivals – its natural treasures are equally rich. Bhutan’s mountains, forests, clean water and clear air are certainly integral to the joy that its citizens relish in their everyday lives.
Ranging from subtropical lowlands in the south to sub-alpine Himalayan heights in the north, Bhutan holds varied and spectacular terrain. Its highest peaks rise above 23,000 feet, with deep valleys between them cut by swift, snow-fed rivers that rush to the Indian plains. These alpine valleys are used as pasture for livestock, tended by itinerant shepherds.
Wildlife abounds in Bhutan, including Bengal tiger, one-horned rhinoceros, golden langur, clouded leopard and sloth bear in the lush tropical lowlands and hardwood forests of the south. Fruit-bearing trees and bamboo provide habitat for Himalayan black bear, red panda, squirrel, sambar, wild pig and barking deer. The alpine habitats of the great Himalayan range in the north are home to the snow leopard, blue sheep, marmot, Tibetan wolf, antelope and Himalayan musk deer.
NHA offers four 2001 departures on our Bhutan: Spirit & Nature tour , with space still available this spring. Check our website for more details on visiting one of the happiest places on earth (and we’re not talking about Disneyland!)
Yours in the pursuit of happiness,