A Look Into Bhutan, One of the World’s Happiest Places


As I walked into the temple, Buddha sat peacefully in the center of the room, and on the floor, nearly a thousand monks were chanting with the master. I encountered this scene in July 2022, and it has stayed with me ever since.

You can easily catch those moments in almost every temple in Bhutan. The country, with 795,158 people currently, is located in Southern Asia, nestled deep in the Himalayas and sandwiched between Tibet and India, and it’s one of the happiest places on earth.

Locals refer to Bhutan as “Druk Yul” or the “Land of the Thunder Dragon.” The country was famous for its monasteries, fortresses, and picturesque landscape. The beauty of Mahayana Buddhism, the most practiced religion, also leaves a big mark in tourists’ hearts.

Some people believe that Bhutan is the happiest country in the world because they have their own measurement called Gross National Happiness instead of relying on the GDP to assess the development of their country.

Gross National Happiness is a measure of economic and moral progress that the country of Bhutan introduced in the 1970s as an alternative to the gross domestic product according to Investopedia.

“When we say Gross National Happiness, it is not the celebrative ‘Ha ha – Ho ho’ kind of happiness that we look for in life,” said Bhutan Prime Minister Dr. Lotay Tshering who took office in Nov. 2018. “It only means contentment, control of your mind, control of wants in your life. Don’t be jealous of others, be happy with what you have, be compassionate, be a society where you can be more than happy to share,” in an interview with CNN.

He added, “When we know that monetary wealth and material wealth will not translate to what you actually want in your life … peace of mind and happiness … then why should we target that as our main objective?”

In Buddhist teaching, compassion toward one another is one of the main vital principles, and the Bhutanese apply this ethic on a daily basis to help them maintain a state of serenity and delight.

“There is a great emphasis on practicing compassion in most Mahayana schools of Buddhism, as well as a greater emphasis on this world as opposed to the next world,” said Thomas Johnson, Williston History and Global Studies Teacher and Department Head. “If a whole community or people practice compassion, I imagine it would make for a much happier place to live.”

Not only is the beauty of people here remarkable, but the beauty of nature as well. The nation still retains its rustic look since they haven’t urbanized. The hilly roads sometimes make it a bit difficult to move and require skillful, challenging driving, but the verdant scenery through the car window will make you forget that.

Shez Zangmo, a 2020 Williston alumnus from Bhutan, shared an interesting fact about her hometown that still amazed her.

“Bhutan doesn’t have traffic lights. Bhutanese people on the roads have their ‘instinct’ to navigate through the steep curves in the Himalayas,” she said.

And Shez recommended travelers take a deep breath to enjoy the brisk air if they visit her country. Bhutan is a very healthy nation. It prohibited the use of plastic in 1990 and smoking and tobacco products in 2005, which has helped them to become one of the three carbon-negative countries in the world. The two others include Panama and Suriname.

Despite all the beauty and happiness in Bhutan, Shez shared that “Bhutan is facing plenty of apprehension and concerns for the growing exodus to slog, toil, and grease the machine of capitalism in Western countries.”

As a Columbia University student currently enrolling in economics and environmental science major, Shez hopes to “provide research, data and introducing pragmatic policies to allow my compatriots to make a comfortable living without the need to emigrate.”