Here is a nutshell look at Gross National Happiness (GHN) as it works in Bhutanese culture, and perhaps, a few lessons I learned in my own spiritual travel in Bhutan.
GHN is founded on four fundamental concepts: the Four Pillars of Gross National Happiness. They are Promotion of Sustainable Development, Preservation of Cultural Values, Conservation of Natural Sources, and Establishment of Good Governance. These are the foundational philosophies upon which all governmental decisions are made in terms of cultural and economic advancement.
As a result, Bhutan is integrating extremely well into the modern world while still managing to maintain their cultural and ethnic traditions (something that has caused incredible challenge and strife in places like neighboring Nepal, where cultural traditions are quickly disappearing to backpacker rich Western Culture). Things like urban development are advancing at a manageable pace, while new building construction maintains traditional architectural design. Education is free and ubiquitous, and taught both in Dzonkha (Bhutan’s national language) and English. Medical care is free and readily available to all Bhutanese citizens.
But there’s more to the culture of happiness than education and health care. There is a real, practical feeling of happiness at work in Bhutanese life.
The simplicity of a cup of tea, or the sincere hospitality of having dinner in a family home reveals the depth of care the of the Bhutanese heart. “When my guests are happy, I am happy,” I am told again and again as I travel the countryside. Their spirituality seems to be at work in everyday life as monasteries take it upon themselves to make sure all those in their area are fed and housed, even if it means taking in a stranger for the night.
Traditional values are reflected in every aspect of Bhutanese culture, such as the rich, colorful Kira (the women’s traditional dress) and Gho (the Bhutanese “man-dress”), which can be seen everywhere, even among the wealthy businessmen of Thimpu, Bhutan’s Capitol city.
There is a remarkable ease in the flow of Bhutanese life. From the balance of home life and work (one of the metrics of GHN) to their avid pursuit of the national sport, archery, there is a richness of an integrated life in Bhutan that transcends the need for things, goals, or achievements and simply allows happiness to flow on every level.