Bhutan is a country not measured by GDP but GNH (Gross National Happiness). During the four days I stayed in the country, I spoke to 25 local people and found out their formula to happiness.
"I am happiest when I see my parents every four to five months. Right now I am in boarding school and I don't see my parents that often. Every time I see them, I have so much joy and I can't wait to introduce them to my new friends."
–Kunzang S., student and Bhutan youth national football player
"I feel myself as a masterpiece. I don't want to be anyone else."
–Sangay D., hotel worker
"I've never been sad."
– Gap T., elementary school student
"I am grateful for being able to stand on my own feet. I am not dependent on anyone. I am self-sufficient. I am also glad that I am a teacher, because I can make a difference in a small child."
– Jambay W., primary school English teacher
"I want to be reborn as a monk again."
– Sonam D., young monk
"I don't desire anything more than what I already have."
– Tashi L., housewife and scarf weaver
"My wife got cancer in 2008 and passed away. At her death, I had no money and could not do anything about it. Since then I started volunteering as a caretaker at this temple. I am grateful that I can practice Dharma for her. I can come here to pray for my wife and my children's afterlife. I earn 5000 Ngultrum (less than 100 US dollars) per month, but I am happy because by praying here I know my family and I are blessed."
–Gem D., temple caretaker
"I am really satisfied with the way I look, as long as I have the five senses."
– Tashi C., medical assistant and niece of fabric shop owner
"I am grateful to my government for providing me free education here. I've got so much training at this school. It is a life skill to have."
–Damcho D., 5th year sculpture apprentice at arts and crafts school
"Next life I want to be a better human."
– Tshoki P., model
"I have been grateful to my parents my entire life but they are no longer with me. Now, I am grateful to my nine children who look after me."
– Gyeltshen, farmer in Punakha, Bhutan
"I suffered a lot as a child, often having not enough food. Our 4th and 5th kings have brought more development and peace to our country. They have done great deeds. I am so grateful to have enough food, all the basic needs, and a better life."
–Kuanzang P., senior citizen, prayer
"Everyday I feel grateful to my teacher and the saints I pray to."
–Phub G. 12-year-old monk
"I am happy as long as I am not sick or handicapped."
–Phub Z., fruit vendor
“The happiest moment in my life is when winter vacation comes."
– Tschewang J., 7th grade student (top 10 in class)
"Karma will take me somewhere for my next life. I have no choice and I am happy to accept."
–Tshering, police woman
"I am happy to live in Bhutan but I would like to visit the West. The internet is faster and the women are taller!!"
– Gyeltshen D., assistant governor, lover of archery
"I was more grateful to my husband, but now that I have my baby, I am more grateful to my baby."
–Pema Y., mother of 11-month baby
"I am grateful for good health. As long as I have health, I can do work and support myself."
– Indra D. G., market vendor
"I am grateful to be alive! When I wake up each morning, I think it is a blessing to live today. I live every day as if it were the last day. This way, I make sure that I have a sense of purpose all the time. I never procrastinate and leave something for tomorrow. I do it today.
If I were to be born again, I would like to be a spiritual Bodhisattva, because he is an enlightened being who chooses not to go to heaven but stays in the world to help others attain enlightenment. I see so much suffering in this world. Our children may want branded stuff like Nike and Adidas, but other children have nothing, nothing. I want to teach others to see other parts of the world too."
– Kezang, the most successful pharmacy shop owner in Thimphu, Bhutan (who according to friends, gives out free medicine to people who cannot afford it)
"I am grateful for free education in Bhutan. Without it I won't have the opportunity to interact with you right now. I learned my A,B,C's from a small town called Kangpara. Do you know what A,B,Cs stand for? For me, it is A for Apple, B for Ball, but C for change, D for difference, E for education, K for knowledge, L for love, M for motivation, S for success. Otherwise, Z would have meant zero in life."
–Langa T., electrical engineer and author
"I gave up regular school and became a nun when I was 13. I was not forced by my parents - it was an act of choice. I was happy to shave off my hair because it is a symbolic act to cut off all worldly pleasures. It also makes the opposite sex less attracted to me so it's less distracting. Fashion is nothing to me."
–Tsewang L., 18 year-old nun
"I am an actor; I am a model. I've never been happy with the way I look. Big ears, big nose. I am a vain person. I am not happy the way I look. But I am really happy with what I am."
–Kelly D., artist, actor and model
"Happiness means contentment for all people, not just the self."
–Tschewang L. and Deki Y., 12th grade students
"I am the one who controls myself. I am the one who sets the future. I am the driver of my car – I drive it at fast speed or slow speed, uphill or downhill. I know how to be in a happy mood, sad mood, or compassionate mood. I am the architect for my life. I am grateful to myself. I don't live for others."
–Ratu D., tour guide
1. Buddhism. In Bhutan, the majority of the population practice Buddhism. 100% of my interviewees in this project happened to be Buddhists.
2. Lack of Greed. As an essential part of the Buddhist teaching, people are content with what they already have. When one does not desire for more, one can lead a more satisfied life.
3. Gratitude. Everyone has deep appreciation for his or her good fortune, such as family, friends, health, education, etc. Knowing how lucky they are, they remain thankful every day.
4. Modesty. People are genuine and do not like to display wealth. My Bhutanese friend told me that even the king and queen of Bhutan don't live in a grandiose palace, but live humbly in a cottage by the river where they personally plant trees.
5. Self assurance. Internally feeling secure and confident, people are proud of who they are and would never want to change. An overwhelming majority of people I interviewed told me that they are very happy the way they look, as long as they "have all 5 senses and no disability."
6. Acceptance. People believe that misfortune is due to bad karma from the previous life, so they embrace hardship without getting too upset. They understand that they should strive to do better in this life to build good karma for the next life.
7. Altruism. Individuals want to help others out of kindness, and their happiness is built on sharing and giving. This is why the most successful pharmacy shop owner gives out free medicine to people who cannot afford it. Compassion is a virtue in Buddhism.
Special thanks to my friend Ratu Dorji from Bhutan for all the help he has provided. Without him this project would not be possible.