Saturday, October 22, 2011

Bhutan - Pursuing Happiness

Coincidentally 2 days ago while chatting with a colleague's husband on the way to a workshop meeting he asked if I had been to Bhutan. I said no and he quickly recommend going. He said Bhutan has very strict policies on tourism and ensures limited number of arrivals as well as preservation of her environment and culture. Indeed for a small landlocked country to deny itself of more tourism revenue is surprising because many countries look to tourism as a way to raise revenue if they cannot produce sufficient goods and services to improve its export revenue. With a very small population of under 1 million it depends on agriculture, forestry and tourism to support its economy which grew significantly from the sale of its hydroelectricity power to India.

Today the Star's Bizweek carries a 4 page article on Bhutan. What caught my attention was its byline - Bhutan .. is proof that happiness does not necessarily come with high income. I am sure it wasn't written to snub PM Najib's promise to create a high income society. But I feel we have a lesson to learn from a near unknown country miniscule in size but with wisdom worth emulating.

Bhutan has a GNH or Gross National Happiness index reviewed biennially to determined if her people are happier or otherwise. Why would a government cares for its citizens's happiness? I believe happiness produces productivity as well as stability. People who's lives are grounded in happiness are able to deal with problem more responsibly, act less rashly, and are better able to deal with trials and complain less. A Chinese proverb declares a person attains greatest happiness when he (she) depends on him (her)self rather than on others. Sounds like a familiar issue we are facing, isn't it? No wonder our GNH (which is non-existent) will be extremely low. Many Malaysians dwell in problems instead of enjoying our prosperity. While the Thais suffer massive floods that threatens the livelihood of hundreds of thousands in and around the capital Bangkok, we are having a bunch of intolerant people fighting an invisible fear called 'christianization' in a nation with majority Muslim population. It is like we are on a scenic tour and instead of enjoying the beauty and taking in the refreshing sights we complained about a fellow traveler or the guide. We deliberately choose to be unhappy!

In a side article entitled 'Can Malaysia aim to be happier?' head of the government's Performance Management and Delivery Unit, Idris Jala, sidestepped the question. Instead he explained the government is focused on 'producing big results fast and raising the bar of our competitiveness in the global markeplace'. The answer avoid the spiritual welfare of our citizens but focus on materialism. Our national health is not based on GDP which may indicate we are a fast growing economy. But of what use if the citizens are disunited, living in suspicion of each other, struggling to meet their debts, having less time for self development and family? Of what use if a man should gain the whole world but in the process loses his soul? (Matthew 16:26). Our situation may not be as serious as the warning from the Bible but close enough. In our pursuit for wealth and position we can forego balancing our spiritual needs.

The Bhutanese quest for happiness in a world competing to be rich and powerful may ultimately be the source of envy. Being isolated it stands a very good chance of being the happiest people on earth. We don't need to fly there to learn their secrets. We just need to realize that if we are unselfish, trust in each other and care for the wellbeing of our neighbors we shall begin to understand that

Happiness is found in doing, not merely possessing. (Napoleon Hill)

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