Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
I get e mails sometimes from people interested in Bhutan, which is great. I love to answer questions and talk about Bhutan. Here are some interesting questions from a woman writing a dissertation. They made me think. I hope she'll visit Bhutan some day.
Q: I am really curious about Gross National Happiness. Is Bhutan's government really so concerned with its people's well-being, or it is just a catch for tourists?
A: There are about 700,000 people living in Bhutan. It’s 200 miles from east to west and 100 miles from north to south, so it's small. Almost half the population are sustenance farmers living in isolated villages. They need roads and electricity and infrastructure. Almost half the population is under 15, so everyone is scrambling to educate and train and generally occupy these kids and make them contributing members of society. Bhutan is an ecological hotspot, home to thousands of endangered species of plants and animals including tigers, elephants, cranes and monkeys. They've done a lot of things right to preserve their culture and environment. If the government doesn’t concern itself with the people's well-being then everybody knows. No government is perfect, but I believe Bhutan's is less corrupt than any in Asia and many around the world. The country is going through a lot of changes, because it is trying to develop as a democracy. It’s not Shangri-La. It’s better than Shangri-La because it’s real.They have some good ideas about measuring prosperity and there is a general debate about exactly what prosperity is, and they are interested in exporting these ideas. Check out the article I wrote about this for Mandala magazine. I don’t think it’s for the tourists. Bhutan is nothing like Disneyland.
Q: Are there very poor people there? Do they know hunger? Do they have any social care system? Benefits?
A: Yes, people are poor. Current UN statistics indicate about a quarter of the population has food insecurity. But there aren't any beggars. The government subsidizes with food and land. Bhutan is one of the few countries in the world with free healthcare and free education.
Q: Are people truly happy there? What's the source of this happiness? What about you, you are an American, put into this spiritual development-concerned nation, straight from the society of consumption. Do you miss something? Are you happy there? If yes, what makes you happy?
A: I can't speak for the Bhutanese. I'm happy in Bhutan. It's easier to be kind in Bhutan. Life is way less stressed. I can feel it as soon as I get off the plane and smell the clean air. Have you ever smelled pristine air? I feel balance there.I feel healthier. This is satisfying in the extreme. I love the mountains and the feeling that while the rest of the world goes on, I’ve found the center of my universe. Also, it's a really quirky place. That’s fun. Every day I’m surprised. And mostly I love the people. I don't recommend Bhutan for everybody. It's isolated, and life can be harsh. But everyone should have something that makes them happy.
Q: Do you miss things?
A: I miss nice plumbing. I miss a few comforts. But it’s amazing what I don’t miss.
Q: Does it change anything?
A: No, it doesn’t change anything. Being happy doesn’t mean things are perfect. It means you are in balance. If I miss things then other things take their place. I read an interview once with Ken Kesey, who said about years of taking LSD "you gain some things and you lose some things." For me, that also applies to living in Bhutan.
Q: Could you also ask your husband what he thinks about this?
He's pretty self contained no matter where he is, and his well being isn't tied so much to his environment. He's a good Buddhist. He's happy in Bhutan because it's his home. When we're in the US he's preoccupied with figuring things out, driving, getting around. He thinks we move really fast and we are all stressed out. He thinks Americans are really smart.
Q: Could something be designed to make you happier there?
A: I can’t think of what that might be. Satisfaction and well being comes from getting things right in your life. That’s an internal thing, and it’s personal. And also-- and this is important-- well-being comes from taking things out of your life, not putting things in.
Q: Could something be designed to make your husband happier there?
A: People say that you don’t have to have it all. You just have to have enough. He’d like to have more money so he could spray it around to people he knows who need it. There’s a lot of need. His uncle has a shedra, a school for monks. We wish we could do more.
Q: And one more question to your husband. In the last several years a lot has changed in Bhutan, TV, internet, western brands. How did it all affect his life? Is he happier now with all that than he was before?
A: No. Some of those things improved his life, but they didn't make him happier. I asked him once what he liked about living in the US. He said he liked the ice and water that come out of the doors of all the refrigerators. His needs are simple.