Today is the International Day of Happiness, a day to celebrate & promote happiness, and enjoy a much needed break from the constant flow of products and advertising. The International Day of Happiness website highlights some extremely important, and truly fascinating facts, namely that “social isolation is as potent a cause of early death as smoking; and the epidemic of loneliness is twice as deadly as obesity.” So in celebration of this incredibly important day, we thought we would look at the only country in the world which measures its success by Gross National Happiness (GNH) rather than Gross Domestic Product (GDP)!

Bhutan was created in the 9th century when turmoil in Tibet forced monks to flee the country. Whilst little is known about its history, it was founded to be a spiritual sanctuary from the horrors, greed and deception of the outside world, and many say is the basis for John Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon, which describes the fictional valley of Shangri-La; a mystical, harmonious valley, gently guided from a monastery. Television was only allowed into the country in 1999 and parliamentary democracy was only fully established in 2008, thus, for many, it is too early to tell if this revolutionary system works.

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The concept of GNH consists of four pillars: Fair socio-economic development (better education and health), conservation and promotion of a vibrant culture, environmental protection and good governance, which are further separated into nine pillars psychological well-being, health, time use, education, culture, good governance, ecology, community vitality and living standards. The aim is for a balance between material and spiritual ‘wealth’.

A child’s education includes daily meditation sessions, as well as organic farming. Choki Dukpa, headteacher of a primary school in the country’s capital, Thimphu, says, “An education doesn’t just mean getting good grades, it means preparing them to be good people. This next generation is going to face a very scary world as their environment changes and social pressures increase. We need to prepare them for this.”

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In the last 20 years, the average life expectancy has doubled, and Bhutan has almost enrolled 100% of its children in primary school. Its roads offer signs of life-affirming mantras such as, “Life is a journey! Complete it!” or urging drivers to, “Let nature be your guide”. Another, standing on the edge of a perilous curve, simply says: “Inconvenience regretted.”

Furthermore the country is pledged to remain carbon-neutral, with plastic bags banned, as well as private vehicles on roads. In addition there is a law which states that 60% of its forests should remain forests, for future generations. It recently announced its intention to become the world’s first 100% organic-farming nation.

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Whilst there are a number of people who slate their system, comparing it to countries which have been affluent for decades, when one compares Bhutan’s performance on various economic and social indicators with that of countries similar to it, such as India, we see some very positive movement. For example, Bhutan’s average economic growth rate of around 8 per cent per annum, over the decade to 2007, was substantially higher than that for India, as well as the GDP per capita in 2007 being 75% higher than in India. See the full comparison here.

Bhutan is no Utopia, yet its movement in measuring success in GNH rather than GDP, and its focus on sustainability and the environment makes it a truly incredible place – and a perfect system to look towards for the International Day of Happiness. So on this very joyous day, we at People Tree wish you all the love and happiness we can!

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Happy International Happiness Day! :))))))))

All images belonging to David Hadrill – thanks for allowing us to use these pictures from your trip to Bhutan!

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