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"Bhutan at a Crossroads"

Nestled in the soaring eastern himalayas between Tibet and India, Bhutan is one of the happiest countries on Earth. How do we know that? Because when researchers at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom pieced together 100 studies to create the first world map of happiness in 2007, Bhutan ranked first in Asia and eighth in the world—which is extraordinary, given that Bhutan’s Gross Domestic Product ranks 137.

When another attempt to measure international happiness, the Happy Planet Index, asked people around the world a simple question—“Overall, how happy would you say you are these days?”—the Bhutanese came in 13 among 178 nations. Notes the World Bank, “Bhutan should be considered one of the few countries where the quality of life of its people is higher than would be expected from traditional development indicators.”

For Bhutan, happiness isn’t accidental. It’s a policy goal. After ascending the throne as Bhutan’s fourth king in 1972, Jigme Singye Wangchuck advanced the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH) and placed it above Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as the ultimate measure of well-being for the Bhutanese, arguing that health, education, and justice were necessary for a nation to develop. His Oxford-educated son, Jigme Khesar Mangyal Wangchuck, who succeeded him in November of 2008, has pledged to continue this policy.

Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness is measured by how well the natural environment is supporting the people; the extent to which communities and families are intact and thriving, not just financially but also culturally; and by its citizens’ reports on their own levels of happiness. The Bhutanese, as well as many outside observers, argue that the secret of their happiness lies in the security of their community, kinship, and family relationships, and in a self-sufficient lifestyle. And their Buddhist spiritual tradition, which considers craving the root cause of unhappiness, guides their daily life.