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Bhutan: the home of happiness
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I'm reading
Bhutan: the home of happiness
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I'm reading
Bhutan: the home of happiness
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Pass it on
10 July 2013

Bhutan: the home of happiness

Relatively remote and untouched by the outside world, Bhutan has a remarkable openness, both in terms of the vast and mountainous landscape and the nature of the people.

Written by Mele-Ane Havea

Behind extraordinary ideas, there are extraordinary people.

In 2012, Bhutan introduced the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH) to the international community. Challenging the unconscious pursuit of economic growth, GNH is an alternative measure of success, a measure of progress beyond GDP. Before arriving in Bhutan, I was more than a little curious about how this small, landlocked Kingdom of only 800,000 people, could be leading the world in this important conversation.

It didn’t take me long to work it out: there is happiness in the air.

It’s impossible to enter the Kingdom of Bhutan without noticing that something is different. Relatively remote and untouched by the outside world, there is a remarkable openness, both in terms of the vast and mountainous landscape and the nature of the people. Yes, there is happiness in the air.

For over 30 years, the happiness and wellbeing of its people has been central to Bhutan’s development policies. In fact, all laws and regulations must be screened for GNH to ensure that they improve the happiness of the Bhutanese people. The GNH identifies nine domains, which contribute to overall life satisfaction–the ‘happiness score’ so to speak. These domains include social support, health, community vitality, arts, culture and environment.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Bhutan is not a perfect place. Like any other society, it has its challenges: approximately 20% of people live below the poverty line; there are general economic pressures; and whilst the ancient culture and traditions have been largely maintained, modernity (with all its complexities) is loudly knocking on its door. One only needs to go out at night in Thimpu to witness the growing number of youth dressed in fake leather jackets, obviously enticed by western music, technologies, ideas and fashion. For Bhutan, a major challenge is to balance the increasing influence of the outside world with the protection of its people, culture and environment. That said, although Bhutan doesn’t have a perfect GNH score, it consciously works to improve it (including a constant reduction in poverty).


Complications on the road to modernity aside, here are three reasons why I think Bhutan is the rightful home of GNH, or, to put it another way, why Bhutan made me happy…

1. Beauty is celebrated
The first thing I noticed when exploring Bhutan was how bright, colourful and beautiful things were. Houses are brightly coloured, rainbow curtains hang in the windows, the awnings of almost all buildings are painted with intricate designs, with wonderful paintings on many of the walls. This celebration of beauty was evidenced everywhere, from the Airport to the petrol trucks.

2. The environment is respected and protected
Located in the eastern Himalayas, Bhutan is rich in forests and natural vegetation (over 65% of the country is covered by forests) and environmental conservation and protection is of utmost importance. The result is that the environment is pristine and the air is clear. When I visited (in Spring) the oak and pine forests were speckled with bright and blooming rhododendron, cherry blossom and magnolia trees.

3. Spirituality is tangible
Finally, and most relevant to happiness, Bhutan is relentlessly spiritual. Whatever religious form, or lack thereof, you prefer, it’s hard to deny the sense of spirituality in the air. This was most evident to me whilst hiking up to Tigers Nest, a temple built on the mountainside, 3,400 meters above sea level, the most sacred site in Bhutan. Whilst making my way along the track, lined with prayer flags, I was deeply moved. It made me conscious of the fact of that we are all connected and more aware of the trivial distinctions we create to define and divide ourselves.

It may be relatively small in size and population but Bhutan’s message to the world is profound. Happiness is possible. Happiness is important. Happiness should be valued. Visiting Bhutan made me realise that the rest of the world has a lot to learn from this little country about what constitutes success and happiness.


The gross national happiness index survey:

How happy are you?

Bhutan’s International Happiness agenda:

Jigme Y. Thinley, Prime Minister of Bhutan speech to the UN General Assembly

UN Resolution

Visiting Bhutan:

Tourism is strictly controlled and all Tourists must book through a registered travel agent.

Bhutan & Beyond

Lonely Planet guide

Mele-Ane Havea

Mele-Ane comes to Dumbo Feather with a varied background, from corporate law to community and human rights law, with an Oxford MBA thrown in for good measure. At business school and the Skoll Centre for Social entrepreneurship, Mele-Ane became enamoured by the idea of social and responsible business, and the power of story-telling. When not rallying the troops at Dumbo Feather, she works on a number of projects that promote the idea of business as force for good, in particular with the B corporation movement.


Feature image by Mele-Ane Havea

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