“Happiness is a state of mind”: Lessons from Bhutan

We often relate happiness with smiles and laughter. It is definitely a factor, but not the only one. From what I’ve seen, eyes light up more than the teeth, when someone is happy. On my visit to Bhutan, only country that measures its economic development by Gross National Happiness, I imagined that people would be grinning from ear to ear with enough reasons to count. I couldn’t have been more wrong!

Most Bhutanese people keep a stoic exterior but once you start talking to them, they turn out to be some of the friendliest folks. The cab drivers stop when they see pedestrians waiting to cross the road. Almost everyone is ready to assist you with the directions. Though tourism is a major source of revenue for the country, tricking the travelers by asking ridiculous amount of money is still not the norm. They don’t push you to buy a souvenir, hire a taxi or rent a hotel room. Instead, they come for genuine help, when required. As I indulged in more conversations with different locals, I realized ‘contentment’ could be a better word than ‘happiness’, to describe their state.

Girls at Punakha river
Girls at Punakha river. It was just a few steps away from where we stayed.
Nuns at Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup Nunnery.
Nuns at Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup Nunnery.
Punakha taxi stand
Just another day at a Taxi stand.

The life, in general is relatively slow. People are relaxed, at-ease. They are absolutely busy, doing everyday chores, trying to earn enough money but they haven’t forgotten to live. Most of them walk miles or ride cycles in their everyday lives. They have learnt to use gadgets, but not abuse the advantage. Their lives are still not ruled by Facebook and Twitter. Their children still play out in the open, with other kids. No one really interferes in each others’ business. They enjoy their share of movies and music, but don’t let it become Noise.

Norzin Lam, Thimphu.
Norzin Lam, the main street of Thimphu.
Monk at work in Punakha Dzong.
Monk at work in Punakha Dzong.

For a nation that shuts down by 10 PM, at the latest (some towns even by 8 PM), it is anything but boring. In fact, they are quite liberal when it comes to clubbing and late-night parties. Of course the definition of ‘late’ may differ. It’s a relative term after all.

As a woman, I never felt uncomfortable, even while walking alone on the streets after dark. Not once did I sense those creepy set of eyes staring from one corner or the other. The local women roamed around freely in all areas, during any time of the day. They may have concerns, but safety on the road is clearly not one of them.

A girl enjoying the sun in Paro.
Enjoying the sun in Paro.

On our way from Bumthang to Punakha, an 8-hour drive, we shared the cab with a local automobile dealer, who often visits India for business purposes. While he looked impressed talking about the enormity of the country, he concluded the discussion by saying that, “India is great, but Bhutan has peace.” I couldn’t agree more. He proudly told us about the ongoing water projects in Bhutan, and that they are expecting currency appreciation once all prospective dams are built. Every country has its own problems, and I’m sure they must be dealing with theirs’ but they seem to keep their cool about it.

Locals posing during the climb to Taktsang Monastery, Paro.
Locals posing during the climb to Taktsang Monastery, Paro.

One of the big reasons behind all kindness and peace could be the small population, but for now, I am not in a mood to evaluate the reasons. I am sharing what I saw and observed over 11 days in Bhutan. A country where all my random smiles were returned by complete strangers, where I felt safe on lonely roads, where humanity still exists in abundance.

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© 2016, Swati. All rights reserved.

21 comments

  1. Wow Bhutan seems like somewhere totally different than I would usually go…which makes me really want to go!! Its nice to know they aren’t controlled by social media. Thats very refreshing!

    1. It is, and I’m amazed that a lot of people don’t even know such a place exists. It’s a tiny, peaceful land in Himalayas that needs to be explored more. 🙂

    1. It has different tourism policies for different nations, most of which are misunderstood by people. One of the big reasons that it is still relatively unexplored.

  2. India looks amazing! I’ve heard so many good things about it from people who’ve gone and how it easily becomes one of their favourite countries without fail. I’ll have to put India higher on my list and experience it for myself!

  3. And we have been thinking of visiting Bhutan forever now… Hopefully this year. I like this national focus on happiness instead of hunk more nations should adopt a policy like this.

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