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Photo: courtesy Denzong

Bhutan has a different idea of happiness from that of other countries. It’s called the happiest country in Asia and the last Buddhist kingdom. It’s the only country in the world where the government says its most important job is defining, providing, and measuring the happiness of its people.  


Gangkhar Puensum. Photo public domain.

Bhutan is a very small kingdom that lies between India and China.

Bhutan flag


• It is the 1st country whose constitution requires people to protect the environment!

•  In 2013 the government said that Bhutan will be the first country in the world with 100% organic farming [farming that does not use chemicals].

• It’s one of the last countries to allow television.

• It is the only country where it’s against the law to sell tobacco [cigarettes].

• Since 1999 plastic bags are prohibited [not allowed].



THE KINGDOM OF BHUTAN has been very isolated [left alone to itself] almost all its history. This, they say, has preserved [saved] its traditions and way of life. Up until the 1960s, to even enter the country you needed a royal invitation from the king! But today tourism is second biggest industry [activity that brings money to the country]. Still, there is only one airport and one runway [road for planes to land on], but today Bhutan welcomes people from all over the world.

     Tradition is very important in Bhutan. The government works hard to protect the nation’s identity and culture. They say that their culture and identity is their strength. (Other countries might call their wealth, their army or their freedom their strength.) Bhutanese people must wear traditional clothes in public places, in Buddhist religious buildings, in government offices, to work, to school, and at public events. Religion plays an important part in their culture as well. The official religion of the country is Buddism, but there are also a small number of Hindus and a very few Christians. The country has more monks than soldiers and most families hope they will have one child who becomes a monk. Almost every house has a temple room where Budda statues are kept, and there family members pray in the morning and at night. However, astrology, superstition and black magic are also strong parts of their culture. 

     The government feels responsible for caring for both the material and spiritual needs of the people. Up until very recently, Bhutan was ruled by a king. But in 2008 the king gave up control of the country and said he would share his power with a democratically elected parliament and Prime Minister. It is the newest democracy in the world. Like the king, the new government continues to preserve the country’s traditions. That means that it plays a major [big] role in controlling how people live. In the 1990’s, a group of people called the Lotshampa were expelled [sent out] from the country. The king was afraid that they were making demands that would change the ways and traditions of the country. Only recently the government let there be television and internet, but it feels there are signs already that this is hurting their culture.   

     Traditionally, birthdays are not celebrated. Everyone becomes one year older on New Year’s day! 

Q. What role do you think a government should play in your life?  


     Bhutan is rich in languages and has an amazing number of them for such a small country. There are more than 24 languages and 16 of them are spoken only in Bhutan. The official language is called Dzongkha. But to be able to understand each other, English is spoken as the second official language and is used to unite the people and regions. Children begin learning English in first grade. In every school, you can see a sign on classroom walls that says, LIVE HAPPILY. As part of their education, children are taught to control anger, jealousy and hatred, and to learn to be patient and tolerant. 

     Q. What do you think, should there be a class in school that teaches us how to be happy?  


      The government of Bhutan considers the happiness of the people to be the most important thing in any decision it makes. But it is also the king and the government who decide what happiness is. They take it as their responsibility to tell the people what will make them happy. There are even public signs, not only in cities, but on the sides of mountains that the government has made with words saying what gives happiness. There are government offices whose job it is to define and measure the happiness of the country in these nine areas: health, education, living standards, government, culture, ecology, time use, and mental well-being. For example, people are taught that they do not need lots of things to be happy and that to live quietly and simply is happiness. Over 80% of the people are farmers. It is very hard work, but they know no other life. They make most of their daily supplies like butter and cheese, and grow their own vegetables. Bhutanese eat rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner with lots of vegetables. They eat very little meat. Both men and women share work equally in their farming work and also in house work, such as cooking meals. 

     Internet videos and documentaries show the beauty of the land and the simplicity of life in the villages. Over 70% of the people still live without electricity. To most, a rich life means having enough food to eat, a warm house, and cows. Here are some of the things people have said in these documentaries: 

     “If we don’t want too much, there is nothing to worry about in life.”

     “If we don’t have money, we have a pure heart.” 

     “There’s no such thing as robbery in this country.  We don’t have wars. We’re self-sufficient [we can take care of ourselves]. We’re happy with what we have.”

     “Happiness not complicated: life itself is happiness.” 

     “Happiness is in our hands.” 

* * *

Q. Here are five hard questions to think about:

     • What really makes you happy?

     • People already know that having lots of things does not mean you will be happy. But does having few things mean you will be happy? How much do you need to be happy?

     • Are people happier if they know, or don’t know, how others live?

     • What do you find interesting about a government caring about the happiness of its people and deciding for them what happiness is? 

     • Is there anything good, or useful, to being unhappy with your life?


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