Bhutan is a picture of tradition. A country nestled in the Himalayas between India and China, two superpowers. The small country with a population of 750000 is often overlooked due to the influential powers of its neighbours, however, it is a traditional haven of Buddhist practices.
The country is renowned for its high levels of happiness and a total of 97% of people there have said they are happy. However, this made me think: what is happiness? How can you measure happiness? I mean, what I consider happiness to be is probably completely different to what you consider happiness to be. Everyone has different opinions and views and therefore everyone has different things that make them happy. So, bearing this in mind, what is Gross National Happiness? How can there be a measurement of happiness? In the 1970s, King Jigme Singya Wangchuck came up with the terminology with the idea that development shouldn’t just consider GDP or wealth. Gross National Happiness considers spirituality, physical health as well as the state of the natural environment. So, despite Bhutan being one of the poorest nations in the world (70% live without electricity), its inhabitants are the happiest. This may be due to the country closing its doors to the rest of the world, which meant everyone was content with what they had and didn’t have a desire for more, like in the Western world today.
“Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product”
– His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the Fourth King of Bhutan
However, these people were challenged by the material revolution, the desire for material possessions, as it was difficult for them to ignore the things that could ‘improve’ their lives. The question is – did their lives need improving?
Bhutan opened its doors to television in 1999 for the first time. Since then teenagers in Bhutan have become increasingly violent due to the prevalence of wrestling programmes and boxing (etc.) which may be damaging the country’s values and tradition. This new media has influenced more and more people in Bhutan and shown them ‘what they could’ve had’, potentially making them more greedy for the Western and modern world. The introduction of television is having a huge negative impact on families within Bhutan as people are beginning to spend less time with the family, in favour of watching TV. People no longer share their time with the ones they love, people no longer read and expand their imagination as much and there may be a break down of the community in Bhutan. Teenagers are also adopting Western clothing due to the influence of American programmes, abandoning the traditional and beautiful clothing of the Bhutanese: the Gho for men and the Kira for women (as shown below). Are traditional Bhutanese values being lost amongst the boom of technology? Not only this, but the change has been rapid over the past decade, not a slow and steady move toward technology. This makes the situation worse, especially in the eyes of the elder generation.
Clearly, globalisation is having a significant impact on the Bhutanese and it’s unclear what the future brings for the unique country.