A while back, re-reading Eric Weiner’s The Geography of Bliss, I found myself besotted with Bhutan yet again. Again, because I was besotted years back. Perhaps, when I learnt that this tiny Himalayan country has never been colonised and insists upon using a Gross National Happiness (GNH) Index rather than the commonly used and more technical Gross Domestic Product as a parameter.
Or perhaps, I fell for the country when I first read Linda Leaming’s Married to Bhutan.
Also, because like most humans I am searching for happiness; and because unlike a lot of humans, I have a pretty curious mind and itchy feet where the itch stops only with the next trip.
Eric Weiner’s book says that in Bhutan, happiness is a policy. It, of course, is not that simple for we know the truth behind most government policies. What I found more interesting than happiness as a policy is the fact that Bhutanese do not fixate themselves with finding solutions. Leaming, in an interview with Weiner, affirms that unlike the USA (or pretty much everywhere), sadness is accepted as a part of life in Bhutan and there is no struggle against it.
Well, that certainly can count for more than half my search for happiness.
While I would not bore you with my findings and interactions with people from Bhutan or the ones who have been there (they do not want to be named), I will share what I figured from all this talk about Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness (GNH).
- Talk about death – Well, the Bhutanese are asked to do it five times in a day. That might be an overkill; but yes, isn’t death one of the root causes of unhappiness. A cause that you cannot defeat, so let’s just talk about it. Not in a serious way, of course. I found that the more we talk of what goes on our epitaphs, the more we know what we really want. Think of it, what do you want to be written/painted/carved there?
You might just find what you want in life as well then.
- Stay close to nature, it teaches
If you thought that the concept of Gross National Happiness is all flak, it is time to re-think. A well-defined scale of 9 domains and their 33 indicators is in place to measure the same, and one of the key parameters in this scale is ‘Ecological Diversity & Resilience’. When in Bhutan, nobody can pick up a dead wooden log from the forest floor as that breaks the ecological cycle by barring natural decomposition! Weiner throws in the concept of ‘greenhouse deities’ in his book, something I would elaborate in another post! So, the basic idea here is to exist and not disrupt. Makes a lot of sense since there is no way we can trump nature.
- Mental wellness
While in India (and most of the world) we are taught how to progress in life, the progress is measured in all practical terms. No wonder that a WHO report (2017) tagged 5 crore Indians suffering from depression, for we hardly have any focus on mental well-being. It was perhaps a Bollywood A-lister’s encounter with depression and her journey when the Indian millenials came to know about the illness. We, as a country and society, have not been taught to listen or talk to ourselves, little wonder that I could connect with what Atticus wrote, “I worry there is something broken in our generation; there are so many sad eyes on happy faces.”
- Balanced contemporary
When we (most of us) talk about modernism, progress or most things contemporary, we often go for skewed decisions. Always hovering between extremes. One look at Bhutan’s happiness scale and you would know that the nation has somehow balanced ancient with modern. So, we have measures like ecological balance going hand in hand with education and good governance. That might just be the key to the making of a lesser Shangri-La if nothing more.
If this reads like a fan’s love for Bhutan’s happiness fixation, know that I have never been fond of cultural inclinations, for culture always finds a close connection with religion. This might or might not have led to ethnic cleansing in Bhutan and a mammoth number of immigrants landing in neighbouring Nepal, which clearly does not count as happy for me.
An inappropriate truth, but a truth anyhow. Also termed as the dark side of Bhutan’s happiness story, this also has a lesson on tolerance.
A lesson that might just be the biggest of all.