Photo: Angela Ng
Have I found happiness now that I’m based in Bhutan?
The Kingdom has inextricably been linked to happiness, thanks to their Gross National Happiness index and framework that is embodied in every policy that they enact. Its citizens' wellbeing and environmental sustainability is the topmost priority over economic development.
But does this mean that this is a country of happy people running around in the mountains?
No, it doesn’t. There is discomfort, inconvenience and a general struggle to make ends meet at times. The country is ranked as the 97th Happiest Country in the World, according to UN World Happiness Report 2018.
Not exactly the happiest in the world. When the report came out, comments on social media ranged from “I thought Bhutan was the happiest country on earth?” to “So much for selling yourself as the happiest place on earth”.
But you see, people misunderstand happiness. Our modern, western notion of happiness is the ability to attain for ourselves pleasure and contentment. These days, the two are very much related to the luxuries in life and for some who can afford it, a hedonistic way of life. To most, happiness is having good fortune and wealth.
But deep down we know that all the riches in the world do not equate to happiness. So what in the world are we chasing? What is this elusive notion of ‘happiness’ and can it really be obtained?
The answer is this:
Happiness is not a destination. It is a journey. It is a choice that you make each day when you open your eyes and crawl out of bed. It is not unattainable. It is always within your grasp, should you choose to see it.
Through my daily readings, I came across an article in Medium titled “The Purpose of Life isn’t to be Happy”. The author aptly defines a happy life as “a life lived in harmony with our own nature, including the acceptance of suffering and discomfort”.
It is exactly this definition that the people of Bhutan live by. Acceptance that you cannot change certain circumstances in life (Buddhist concept of karma) and to live in harmony with this acceptance, as well as your surroundings, people and with nature.
It is not because I’m IN Bhutan that I’ve found happiness - it’s because of what I see in Bhutan that taught me certain aspects of what happiness is.
The irony of happiness is that the process of pursuing happiness renders us as being very unhappy individuals. Therefore, contentment is key. Not contentment in the form of a luxurious, contented life, but to be contented with what little you have and to accept it. This notion may be a bit too simplistic to many, but it is the key to happiness.
Trust me, because I’ve worked backwards on this and had to reverse engineer many things.
Everything that I had to go through to work backwards.
Am I truly happy? Or am I faking it till I make it?
I think I am generally a happy person. For those who have known me for at least 20 years, will know that the me today is a major transformation from my cynical and negative past self.
My calm demeanor and resting bitch face may fool many who tend to associate a happy person with someone being extroverted, jolly and always making jokes. But my happiness, or gratefulness, is a quieter energy, one that stems from my philosophy of not comparing myself to others. I learned that if I stopped desiring, I’ll be contented and grateful for what I have. Comparison leaves us unhappy. Envy and desire leave us unhappy too.
The past 10 years has been spent trying to carve a niche for myself and in the process of doing so, I started chasing until I have enough. We all know, it’s never enough. But it was only till I had enough that I realised I had grown tired of the chase. I was weary and spent looking at other people’s pursuit of what they deem as happiness. Now I’m working backwards to make all these things irrelevant.
But it doesn’t mean I have no goals or ambitions. I have my own ambitions that I hope to achieve but they are not to do with fame or wealth. There is no desire attached to it and those ambitions are barely ambitious. I love to ruminate, I love to write, and I love to come up with small plans that can help people. I hope to amplify knowledge, the goodness of people, and the beauty of certain places. Simplistic? Maybe. But it’s enough and I’ll be more than happy if I had the opportunity to do it - I just haven’t quite thought of how.
This is who I am and whom I’ve come to accept. Pursuing temptations and comfort has blinded me to my true nature and it took a holiday to Bhutan last year to remind me of my true self, which also means, it’s going to be a struggle.
Happiness is overrated
Oftentimes, we equate being contented as not having to struggle or suffer. We tell ourselves that when we finally stop struggling is when we’ve realised happiness.
But happiness can come masked as challenges, as struggles and as suffering. It is only through such low periods that we learn what happiness can be. While we go through turmoil, it is still possible to choose happiness, to keep a positive outlook - that all that you’re going through now are life lessons that you’ll be thankful and grateful for in the future.
Happiness is overrated because it is not an end goal, like how many perceive it to be. It is the tireless aim of trying to achieve it and besides happiness, there are many other worthy values to strive for, such as compassion, empathy, integrity and kindness.
So choose happiness because it is easily within your grasp. Choose happiness even when you’re suffering because all this will pass.
This article was first published on a blog called Life in Bhutan.