Happiness is… a ray of sunshine, a hug, a smile, being with loved ones. And happiness is travel, a suitcase bursting for new adventures and unfolding cultures bathed in rich backdrops – a feast for the eyes, food for the soul and a treasure trove packed with happy memories. Happiness is a state of mind, meaning different things to different people.
Yet, as we search for happiness, there is a Land of Happiness, really! Far away there lies a remote land where the wealth of the country is actually measured by happiness. This land is the tiny kingdom of Bhutan, squeezed between its mighty neighbours of China and India. It sits snuggly amongst the majestic amphitheatre of the Himalayas where it cuddles culture, exudes serenity and exploits adventure in its unspoilt and unexplored environment. A destination cloaked in health and wellbeing with boundless natural resources.
It is here where happiness is measured and rooted in Gross National Happiness (GNH). This grandiose term has a holistic and sustainable meaning which balances material and non-material values with the conviction that we all search for happiness. GNH confronts global, national and individual challenges by pointing to the non-material roots of wellbeing, offering ways to balance and satisfy needs within the limits of what nature can provide.
Stemming from its Buddhist tradition, the kingdom of Bhutan inherited the title of a spiritual and happy destination. Back in the eighth century, the tantric master guru Rinpoche brought Buddhism to Bhutan. Many other masters followed resulting in a plethora of monasteries, temples and holy sites. Bhutan is often quoted as being one of the most blessed places to visit and is the last existing Mahayana Kingdom in the world.
Healthy and holy, the Kingdom, tucked away in South Asia is dotted with wellbeing retreats and therapeutic, mineral-laden hot springs. The Gasa Hot Spring in the west, Dhur Hotel Spring in the centre and Dhuenmang in the south, all highly revered medicinal waters and believed to cure many ailments. Traditional Bhutanese medicine is based on Sowa Rigpa, known as the Amchi system of medicine which is one of the oldest and well documented medical traditions of the world.
Happiness and harmony weave through this land rich in colour and culture expressed through traditional festivals, rituals and lively acrobatic mask dance performances which celebrate the kingdom’s independence and sovereignty.
Bhutan’s elevated natural surroundings are often draped in transparent mist and oxygenated in unpolluted air. Dramatic, mysterious and breath-taking. Monasteries cling to the cliff edge, glacier-fed rivers carve routes through deep mountain valleys themselves dressed in lush aromatic forests. A terrain tailored for a wealth of outdoor adventurous activities from hiking, trekking and climbing to kayaking and mountain biking. And with over 670 species of birds recorded, this is a favoured destination for bird lovers and ornithologists.
Almost cut off for centuries, Bhutan unlocked its doors to foreign visitors in 1974 and today fiercely guards its ancient traditions by controlling tourism numbers to maintains its beauty and tranquillity for its own people and visitors alike. National parks, nature preserves and wildlife sanctuaries are protected and cherished. Controlled numbers of visitors require ravel visas to preserve the kingdom’s pillars of belief to maintain Gross National Happiness – a small price to pay to hear the silence in nature’s sound, to breathe in the purity of the air and of course to share the genuine smiles of the people.
Bhutan may have the accolade, but happiness is everywhere, easy to find, feel and experience from the pathways you choose, the memories you hold and the gifts you give to others along the way. Your treasure trove awaits more happy memories, the suitcase packed for new adventures. Your happiness is for you to discover.
Tips for happy travels:
- Wake up early to experience the sunrise and the freshness of a new day
- Embrace yourself in the culture, try new experiences and learn new skills
- Add an act of kindness to your day
- Smile more often
- Practice silence to find your true inner feelings and thoughts
- And at the end of the day reflect on all the things you have enjoyed along your way.
And in the words of the Dalai Lama, “The very purpose of our life is to seek happiness.”