Bhutan is consistently ranked as one of the happiest countries in the world, and is the only country to measure its progress based on GNH (Gross National Happiness) vs GDP (Gross Domestic Product).

So, what’s the secret behind Bhutan’s happiness? In order to unravel this mystery, we visited The Land of the Thunder Dragon, traveling to Paro, Thimpu, and Punakha – three of the largest cities in the tiny Himalayan kingdom. We spoke to a lot of people, including the politician turned monk who now serves as the executive director of the Gross National Happiness Center.

Here’s what we found out about why Bhutan is so content with life:

Buddhist Thinking

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A majority of Bhutan’s 750,000 population is Buddhist, and the philosophy is intertwined in all aspects of daily life. The country’s citizens firmly believe in karma, meaning they understand that doing good deeds will lead to a better future for themselves, in this life or the next. Therefore, every thought, word, and action is carefully weighted to yield positive consequences. Daily prayers, meditation, caring for the environment, obeying the law, and protecting wildlife are few of the lessons that children are taught from a very young age.

Did You Know: It’s illegal to torture or kill any animal in Bhutan, including for butchery, hunting, or fishing.

A Strong Sense of Community Spirit

Image via Sucheta Rawal/ goeatgive.com

Image via Sucheta Rawal/ goeatgive.com

The Bhutanese people believe in enriching their lives as a community, rather than as individuals. They come together in times of illness, death, and financial difficulties to share their neighbors’ burdens. They care as much for their neighbors as they do for their immediate families, and because of this, there’s hardly anyone who feels lonely or helpless. An entire village will gather together to celebrate festivals or momentous occasions in life, coming together to feast, pray, and watch performances.

Did You Know: Yearly religious festivals called Tshechu are held in each district of Bhutan. It’s highly recommended to plan your travels to coincide with one of the festival periods so you can experience traditional cultural music and dances.

Limited Consumption of Digital Influences

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Walking down streets of Bhutan’s capital Thimpu feels like you have stepped back in time 30-40 years. There are very few hotels and restaurants, and most shops sell television sets made in the 1980s. There are no malls, fast food chains, or designer fashions. Until 1999, local television and access to Internet were banned. Bhutan’s leaders feel it is more important to conserve traditional values than accumulate materialistic things through modernization. This bold move must take a lot of self-control, especially as the tiny nation is sandwiched between the two largest consumers in the world – India and China.

Did You Know: Thimpu is one of just two capital cities in Asia that does not have a single traffic light.

Respect and Love for Nature

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The constitution of Bhutan states that at least 60% of the nation must remain under forest cover. It’s the first country in the world to impose strong environmental protection standards on its people. For example, killing endangered animals can lead to nothing less than life imprisonment. I happened to see a forest fire while driving on the highway and noticed how locals had gathered to witness it being put out by choppers spewing buckets of water. They were genuinely sad to witness the loss of nature, which made me realize how connected they feel to their surroundings.

The Government Studies How to Maintain a Happy Kingdom

Image via Sucheta Rawal/ goeatgive.com

Image via Sucheta Rawal/ goeatgive.com

A team of statisticians, psychologists, and ministers survey all citizens of the country on psychological wellbeing, health, education, time use, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience, and living standards.

The results are used by the kingdom and the government to make decisions regarding administrative policies, planning, resource allocation, monitoring, and evaluation of development. Thus, the people feel that the monarchy takes care of them and watches out for the well-being of its citizens.

As we came to the end of our time in Bhutan, we realized that there’s a lot more to life than the rat race that we all engage in day in and day out. We left with a lot of inner peace and a fresh outlook on life, and were grateful that this tiny kingdom had showed us the bigger picture about life, living, and true happiness.

Which other “happiest nations” have you traveled to or know about? Share your story below. 

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About The Author

Sucheta is an award winning food and travel writer who has traveled to 70+ countries and is on a mission to see the entire world. She is also the founder of the nonprofit organization, Go Eat Give, which promotes cultural awareness through food, travel and volunteering. Sucheta is the author of a series of children's books on travel, "Beato Goes To" that teach kids about different countries and cultures.