Why Bhutanese are among the happiest people on earth

It is not a secret. People in Bhutan are happy. Bhutan is perhaps, the only country where the nation’s development is measured not in its economic progress, but by calculating what portion of its population is actually, really happy.

Happy old lady.

I visited Bhutan recently, and I could really see that people in the Kingdom of Bhutan are indeed a happy species. I could ascertain a few reasons that led to their happiness, based on my talks with several locals and on observing certain obvious signs. Here’s what I think:

  1. Polygamy and Polyandry:

Yes, polygamy is legal in Bhutan. A man can have more than three wives. A woman can have more than three husbands, thus solving half of the world’s catastrophic relationship troubles and depression issues. This was among the first facts of their country that was pointed out to me by my guide — Ugyen. And the rules are the same for the Royals as well as the commoners (the last king had four wives, he had married all four sisters of a family), thus ensuring equality among all humans of Bhutan without discrimination.

There is no dreadful living with lost love, there is no fighting for rights or respect — all spouses live in absolute harmony, as their culture has led them to believe that one should share and spread love.

In fact, when I was in Punakha, I witnessed a wedding ceremony in progress, where the first wife was holding the garland for the new bride, acknowledging the bride as her new sister in the family.

2. Royalty:

Bhutan was declared a Democracy almost a decade ago. However, the Royal Family continues to work hand-in-hand with the elected government for the welfare of people. The citizens of Bhutan WORSHIP their King and Queen. My driver Tenzing smiled often and said to me while showing me Blue Pine trees, “The government changes every four years. They run the country. But the King, he works for us. He works for the people. He takes care of us.”

This sentiment resonates across the country. My driver was not the only one who voluntarily showered praises on the king in front of me. The owner of the restaurant where we had stopped for lunch one day, had pictures of the current King, Queen, and the Prince hanging on every wall of the restaurant. When he caught me staring at one of the photographs, he said, “The king, he looks after us. Soon, the prince will look after us.”

The feeling of reverence was strengthened among the common folks when the last king gave up his throne and kingdom to make way for an elected government, but continued the good work for his people. Ugyen also told me many stories of how the current King and his only Queen are adored and respected around the kingdom. Well, happy followers and happy leaders do lead to a happy nation.

The mid-point of the trek to Tiger’s Nest ( Paro Taktsang), Paro.

3. Nature:

I have oft observed, not just from what I saw in Bhutan, but from my previous travels as well (Slovenia, and other picturesque countries), that being close to nature contributes a lot to one’s peace of mind and happiness. There is certainly some magic in the power of nature, which automatically makes human beings less aggressive and less morose, providing us with a sense of calm that is unmatched.

Bhutanese are so fiercely protective of their nature, and because of their religion, they believe in not hurting (not just physically, even emotionally) any animal. Which is why, in spite of being carnivorous, all their meat is imported from neighboring countries.

Maybe that is the reason why people suffering from clinical depression are advised to spend more time in the mountains, lakes, trees, and with birds and animals.

4. Religion

Only one religion is practiced in Bhutan — Buddhism. While Christians, Hindus, and Muslims are free to practice their religion, they are a very negligible minority in the country. There are only a handful of temples, churches, and mosques in Bhutan.

The absence of contradictory beliefs and religious doctrines automatically removes the possibility of any arguments and violence in the name of religion. Buddhism, more than being a religion, is a way of life. The main values advocated by Buddhism are peace and letting go of all forms of greed and attachment, which naturally lead to overall contentedness with life.

Statue of Lord Buddha — Buddha Dordenma, Thimphu.

5. Development:

For the people of Bhutan, due to their culture, and also due to the religion they practice, economic and infrastructural development is not a necessity. They believe in the power of nature over everything else and thus, fiercely protect their natural resources.

My second driver Jigme used his phone only when he needed to coordinate with restaurant owners for my food or book a hotel in advance for me — which was only once or twice in an entire day. He said to me when I asked him about the network options in the country, “It doesn’t matter if we don’t have connectivity. We won’t die. But we won’t cut trees to put wires and towers to get network. No…trees will not be cut. We need trees.”

This single statement led me to think about how, back at home, and around the world, trees are shamelessly cut for construction purposes, garbage is blindly dumped into water bodies, and no thought is given to what will happen when we run out of natural resources.

People in Bhutan prioritize happiness over wealth.

Happiness is essential. Happiness is indispensable. Happiness is non-negotiable. It is high time we look closely at our lifestyle and think deeply about the kind of human beings we are evolving into.

Eternal escapist, in love with books, football, and long drives. Follow me on IG @ komorebi5