My Views On – Bhutan

Bhutan, officially the Kingdom of Bhutan is a small landlocked country located on the eastern end of the Himalayas. It is home to a small population of about 700,000 people. Bhutan is a unique country of contrasting culture and colours. It has been dubbed The Land of Happiness due to its policy towards social development. What the Bhutanese people lack in material wealth, they make up for equally in spiritual well- being through religious practices and the support of their dear leader and Dragon King, H.M. Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. Bhutan remains one of my most respected countries today due to its unique outlook on life.

Everyone, say tashi delek to the Kingdom of Bhutan !

Full name : Brug- yul – Kingdom of Bhutan

Capital : Thimphu

Official language : Dzongkha

Area : 38, 394 square kilometres

Population : 708, 427 ( 2011 estimate )

Status : Developing country

Bhutan is largely an unknown, but special country known only to the select few. I chose Bhutan as the country of subject today for one very specific reason; the relationship between happiness, material wealth and spiritual development in life. I hope you’ll enjoy reading this article.

The Pursuit of Happiness

What is happiness ? As defined by Wikipedia, happiness is a mental state of well- being characterized by positive emotions. Happiness means many different things to many different people. For some, happiness is external, physical pleasures, for example, eating tasty food or having a massage treatment. It could also mean the engagement ( or flow ) of an enjoyed yet challenging activity, like winning a game or watching TV. Happiness can also refer to having successful relationships with others. Furthermore, when one achieves a goal in life, happiness usually follows suit. Last but not least, the meaning of life, a perceived quest, perhaps the destiny of an individual has a close relationship with happiness. All of these 5 factors come under the study of positive psychology.

Bhutan upholds the importance of happiness and well- being in life. The Bhutanese policy on social development places emphasis on both spiritual and material development rather than just material development in the development of human society. To be more precise, both spiritual development and material development must occur side- by- side in order to complement and reinforce one another. In short, the mental health of an individual is equally significant or superior to the material wealth obtained by an individual in life. This ideology has it’s roots in ancient Buddhist ideals and teachings. Bhutan is a very religious country, similar to neighbouring Tibet. Religion plays a very important role in the culture and lifestyle of the Bhutanese people.

His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, 5th Dragon King of the Kingdom of Bhutan.

The former Dragon King of Bhutan, H.M. Jigme Singye Wangchuck believed that a gain in terms of material wealth alone will not bring about success in a society. He created the quantitative measurement of Gross National Happiness (GNH) in 1972 in an effort to support his vision and mission, that is, to build an economy to serve Bhutan’s unique culture based on Buddhist spiritual values. As explained on Wikipedia, the assessment of Gross National Happiness was created in an attempt to define an indicator that measures quality of life or social progress in a more holistic manner. The standard indicator adopted to measure quality of life and standard of living by the majority of the world’s population today is the Human Development Index (HDI) and Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Gross Domestic Product is by far a tool used to measure merely the economic progress or material development of any given country. It does not factor in other relevant factors such as spiritual development which may determine the success or failure of a nation. Thus, GDP is highly flawed and misleading if used to judge the overall status of a country as it is not a holistic measurement. Human Development Index on the other hand is calculated based on 4 factors; life expectancy, literacy, education and standard of living for countries worldwide. HDI is more holistic when compared to GDP, but is still flawed because it fails to take into consideration other factors such as ecology and of course the mental health of a population, and instead placing more emphasis on the material developments of a country. Gross National Happiness solves these problem by taking into account a multitude of factors, namely; physical, mental and spiritual health; time- balance; social and community vitality; cultural vitality; education; living standards; good governance; and ecological vitality, as defined by the Centre for Bhutan Studies. These 8 factors make for a truly holistic and all- round judgement. However, the methods used to calculate GNH is far from systematic and linear. GNH cannot be used efficiently and effectively unlike other measurements such as GDP and HDI.

Buddhist child monks in Bhutan.

Why is spiritual development and happiness important in life ? In my opinion, spiritual development and happiness gives us a form of eternal, internal peace, and a positive outlook on life. There are many ways to attain happiness in life, as mentioned above. However, few realize that happiness need not necessarily be associated with material wealth, that happiness is actually independent of material wealth, that one may possibly obtain happiness in the absence of material wealth. In today’s world however, material wealth, in other words money, plays a massive role in the development of human society. It has become almost impossible to live a self- sustained lifestyle independent of money. There is a saying that goes ” Money makes the world go ’round ” … but is it true ? In my opinion, I think not, as while money is important in life, it’s still at its core only a tool which drives material development in the human society. While material development in our society is important, we cannot deny the importance of spiritual development, as mentioned above. I believe both of these factors must be taken into account to successfully achieve happiness in life.

Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha

What role does material wealth play in bringing us happiness ?

There is an universal understanding that material wealth, or simply just money brings us happiness. For example, the dream of being able to live in a tranquil, near perfect home, the luxury of owning a prestige automobile and the all too familiar vault filled to the brim with gold, money, diamonds and other objects of lust. Many humans today believe that the purpose of life is to obtain such material wealth. They believe that happiness will ensue once the aforementioned material wealth is obtained.

What role does spiritual development play in bringing us happiness ?

Spiritual development basically means the mental development and health of the mind. In short, a spiritually developed person will have control over his or her thoughts, effectively shutting off the negative in life. Thus, he or she is able to have a positive outlook on life, regardless of the conditions of the physical surroundings. The ideal path many take in the name of spiritual development is religion. The subject of religion in today’s modern world has become increasingly irrelevant and meaningless. However, the truth is religion plays an equally, if not more important role in the development of our human society. In my opinion, religion, at its core serves only one ultimate purpose; to teach us what is right and what is wrong in life. To most people, religion is about praying, about citing holy scripts, about Jesus, Allah, Buddha and Shiva. Of course, there is a lot more to religion that just the acknowledgement of God. In a way, you could view religion as a form of universal law or spiritual education. Proper spiritual development is mandatory if one is intent on living a truly happy life, in terms of mental health, with religion being the primary guide.

Paro Taktsang ( The Tiger’s Nest ), sacred Buddhist temple built in 1692 in Bhutan.

Human nature, our nature, will sometimes blind us from the truth. Let’s take for example, the perception or insistence where people in richer countries live better lives than those in poorer countries. Japan and South Korea are two examples where the population lives in relatively high material wealth. It is true for the most part that the Japanese and South Koreans live better lives than their poorer neighbours, China and North Korea. The environment in which they live in is healthy and productive. The governments of both countries are able to fulfil the desires of their people. Japan and South Korea, from an outsider’s perspective, reinforces the belief where people in rich countries live better lives than people in poor countries. However, believe it or not, surveys and studies have proven that the Japanese and South Koreans live relatively unhappy lives despite the high material wealth found in both countries. In some sense, they are deprived of peace and freedom, and oppressed by modern capitalism. The proof ? Both Japan and Korea have among the world’s highest suicide rates, probably a direct result of extreme stress. Both Japan and Korea have been given low ratings in the Happy Planet Index, despite being wealthy countries. Both Japan and Korea have populations which are shrinking in number, due to the reduction in marriages and births. Both Japan and Korea scored low ratings in the Satisfaction with Life Index. The list goes on.

Haa Valley, Bhutan.

But how can this be ? How is it that happiness still eludes these people, even with the presence of such great material wealth ? This is the plague of human nature, the greed and lust which has made us ever so materialistic in life. Few people realize that the Japanese and South Koreans have to undergo a strict, almost suppressive lifestyle in order to achieve such great material wealth. The average hours spent working in Japan and South Korea ranks among the highest in the world. Their children are trained from young to become only the best, where second place is non- existent. The cost of failure in Japan and South Korea is extreme, where even the slightest hint of incompetence is met with negative consequences and negative reactions from the population. Both Japan and South Korea have become what we’ve come to call, shame societies, where mistakes and incompetence is not tolerated. Because of all these limitations, it has become difficult for them to live truly happy lives. The constant pressure and stress created as a result of the never- ending drive for continuous material development has retarded spiritual development in both countries. It is not just Japan and South Korea which suffer from this problem, pretty much every other modern, industrialized country faces a similar dilemma, from the United States to Singapore. The question remains; How many of us are willing to go through the mental suffering that these people undergo to achieve the material wealth that we so dearly desire ? Think about it.

Punakha Dzong, Bhutan. Constructed in 1638.

Thus, we cannot claim that material wealth alone brings about ultimate happiness in life. Of course, material wealth does help bring us some happiness, in one way or another as both the Japanese and South Koreans live happier lives than say the extremely unfortunate people of Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Burundi. However, material wealth is merely one half of the equation of happiness, an equation which is complemented and completed by the factor of spiritual development. Let’s take for example, the people of Costa Rica, Indonesia and of course Bhutan, who live happier lives than the people of Japan and South Korea despite being far poorer in terms of material wealth. How come ? It is because widespread spiritual development exists in the populations of these countries. All 3 countries are largely rural, non- industrialized and moderately developed. A balance between material development and spiritual development has been struck in these countries. While Costa Rica, Indonesia and Bhutan among others may be home to people with relatively low material wealth, the population is spiritually healthy and thus, happy. The majority of Costa Rica’s population consists of Christians, whereas Indonesia is home to the world’s largest Muslim population. Bhutan is home to both Buddhists and Hindus. The healthy environment which is centred around religion has made possible the proper development of spiritual and mental health. It is also worth noting that these unlikely countries are tourist magnets, despite having no apparent strengths or triumph cards. Can you see the connection ?

Thimphu, capital city of Bhutan.

Moderation is also of utmost importance, and I believe that for everything in life lies a border line which should be respected and acknowledged at all times. For the sake of simplicity, an example of the application of moderation in life can be best explained by the following; Too much food will make us fat, too little and we become thin, either way, we’ll still die if too much or too little food is consumed. Thus, moderation or a compensation must be made for the best possible outcome. In a similar fashion, material and spiritual development must be carried out in moderation for the best results. I believe there is no point being rich and unhappy, or poor and happy, but rather somewhere in between for the best of both worlds. In that sense, I believe Bhutan has got the concept right. While most of us only seek to raise the Gross Domestic Product of our countries by sacrificing thousands of hours at work, the people of Bhutan and other similar countries on the other hand seek to raise their Gross National Happiness by means of moderation. While it is important for us to work to obtain money to support our families, it is equally important that we enjoy life’s little pleasures whenever we get the chances. I believe there is simply no point in working or studying all life, and in the end live a life of despair and constant worry, albeit a rich and wealthy one. I believe it is better if one is able to live a moderate lifestyle, to take only whatever one really needs and to give back whenever one is able to. In this way we get to see the full picture of life, and that we will find more meaning in life, than opposed to simply earning money and getting richer.

The Royal Couple of Bhutan; Dragon King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck (left) and Dragon Queen Jetsun Pema Wangchuck (right); married 13th October 2011.

The ideology that spiritual development is just as important or more important than material wealth is propagated throughout the population of Bhutan. Bhutan is a small country, with an equally small population. This situation has made the quest of spreading and maintaining the ideology easy and possible. Today, Bhutan is home to some of the world’s happiest people. Bhutan has managed to uphold and preserve it’s culture and history thanks to years of isolation. In recent decades, Bhutan has been invaded by globalisation and modernisation and this has affected the foundation and core of the Bhutanese way of life. It is unknown how long this ideology will remain sustainable, but it is my sole hope that Bhutan remains the wonderful and mystical land we have come to love for the forseable future. As far as I’m concerned, Bhutan is one of those few countries out there which has managed to get it right. In that sense, Bhutan is unique and unlike any other, well deserving of our respect.

I would love to visit Bhutan in the near future, would you ?

We have come to our conclusion. We now know that happiness in life can only be attained if spiritual development and material development occur in tandem. If we fail to acknowledge the importance of both factors, we will ultimately fail in the pursuit of happiness. At the end of the day, it is up to us to make the necessary decisions in life to achieve success, because we are the one and only pilots of our own lives.

Thank you for reading a4rzero !

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