Finding Happiness

“Stop running. Happiness has been chasing you all this time…”

Be here and happy

A happy place

Moving to Bhutan does funny things for one’s happiness. Increasingly famous for developing the concept of Gross National Happiness, Bhutan is the first country many people think of when asked to name the happiest place on earth. This has even led the Tourism Council of Bhutan to adopt the slogan, “Happiness is a Place”. Happiness is much more than a place, but indeed, Bhutan has been a great place for me to learn about my own happiness.

People often ask me if I am happier here, and whether those around me are truly the happiest people in the world. The answers to such questions are at first complicated, and eventually simple. People here are not in a race to be happier or happiest. I was amazed to learn recently that the happiness of an individual is 50% genetic, 40% attitude, and only 10% based on one’s environment and conditions. So why would Bhutan make me happy?

One of the most interesting experiences with happiness in Bhutan is the presence of meditation and mindfulness. The idea of “be here now” is very present, and even schools practice meditation exercises for a few minutes every day. The book “Engineering Happiness” (reviewed here) dictates that Happiness equals Reality minus Expectations. Despite being a poor country with its own development challenges, the people have smiles on their faces and seem genuinely happy.

My experience here has led me to come up with my own four rules for happiness:

Let stuff go: Antonia, and I came to Bhutan with only a few pieces of luggage, forced to whittle down our belongings to what we thought we would need for a year or two. Having run a project on sustainable consumption, I was acutely aware of the inverse correlation between the accumulation of stuff and happiness, and I was eager to explore this in practice. My suitcases were filled with mostly with clothes I would be happy to leave behind, plus a large quota of equipment for hiking, camping, cycling and photography. We sold our car and left behind a lot of suits and an attic full of stuff. I still haven’t let go completely and did buy a secondhand iPhone on a recent trip abroad, but I am confident that I will be better at getting rid of quite a bit when I return.

Money is minor: Most people would acknowledge that, beyond basic human needs, money does not buy happiness. Only by moving to Bhutan have I been able to test out this theory in my daily life. With a household income that is about 95% less than a year ago, we have had to make a few adjustments. We keep a careful budget to account for where every Ngultrum goes. Things like cashews are a luxury, and any item over $5 requires consultation. We have ended some months with less than a dollar in the bank, but still happy. Again, our situation is special, because we do have savings to provide a safety net. With the living allowance received, we are still able to live in Upper Motithang, considered the ‘Beverly hills’ of Thimphu, and we certainly have all the comforts we would want. I would hate to think that my happiness relates to the Jonses (or Dorjis here), but we certainly appreciate that we have a good standard of living when compared to some neighbours with no running water.

Less is more: One big contributor to my happiness here is simply doing less. If asked before coming what I would do to be happy, I would have listed many things I would do more of: travel, sports, yoga, cooking, family time, etc. Like most other people, I would have completely forgotten that in order to do more of one thing, one must do less of something else. I am now conscious that I am leading a fuller and more balanced life by working much less than before, including more of everything I would have liked. This is largely the result of the working environment here, which is very much based on a 35-hour work week rather than my previous standard of 55-60 hours. By moving to Bhutan, I managed to force myself into a “reset” mode that would not have been possible in Europe.

Flexibility is freedom: While I am working less, I don’t consider myself to have become lazy all of the sudden. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Here in Bhutan I have discovered a new professional ambition and motivation delivered by independence and freedom. My CEO generally responds to my proposals with a bit of incredulity, followed by “If you think you can make it happen…” Another part of doing less has allowed me to accept various advisory roles on projects and committees that I simply find interesting. The happiness brought by this new freedom makes me realize how stifled I felt by strict organizational structures. With a carte blanche, I now can be more creative and strategic in my work.

Happier than thou?

Happier than thou?

Recently, I was speaking with a friend about how my life has changed since being in Bhutan. I highlighted a number of the points I mentioned above, and in particular how much happier I feel now, compared to before. They then challenged me not to be happier, but just to be happy. After all, what is happier? Happier than what? My own self?

Coming from a competitive environment where superlatives are the norm, I find myself suddenly absorbed by this difference between driving myself to be happier and just accepting happiness. I won’t necessarily be going into a meditative retreat as the monks here do for three years, three months and three days, but I certainly will be more mindful of my happiness, and seek to accept it in the time and place I find it.


198 responses to “Finding Happiness

  1. This is so wonderful! I love your 4 means of happiness! I have started a blog trying to get people in the mindset of happy (especially holding myself accountable for my own). Could I maybe work with you on a post at some point? Thanks!

  2. what a beautiful side, absolutely forgotten. i hope i can make the crossover to the ‘happy’ side.
    truly inspirational. thanks for sharing and congratulations for seeing the truth, the bliss, the happiness.

  3. Pingback: Finding Happiness | pagexofthreehundredandsixtyfive·

  4. Hahaha I never knew Bhutan had such an effect on people’s happiness, I’m sure glad to have learned this. Thank you for sharing and I wish you well.

      • Thanks for this point- I felt the need to reply as I can certainly relate to this point 🙂 I have always had a mind that races. In my previous job, I would come home and think, and think, and think about what happened during the day- which often resulted in sleepless nights. I must say- that since arriving in Bhutan, I think the only thing that has kept me awake at night are the barking dogs! I have thought about what has changed, and I would say: 1) I have learned to recognise that the things that make my mind race are those that are ‘out of my control’. Recognising this has certainly helped me to understand the difference between ‘useful’ thinking, and pointless “what ifs” and “if onlys” that can turn circles in the mind for hours…; 2) ‘one minute meditations’ is a useful tool to help re-focus your mind on something else, helping it rest when it just does not want to. Just some thoughts!

  5. Happier vs Happy. Love it and congratulations on such a beautiful life that you have created for yourself. My husband and I did a similar move when we moved to Hawaii 10 years ago. Happy!!

  6. Dear Randal – thank you for sharing your story … and i loved reading about your increasing happiness … maybe the happiness and contentment was there all along and it took the switch of getting away from what you expected to a new environment to help you to realise it? Love and blessings!

  7. Reblogged this on Miss Bea G. and commented:
    Congrats to you for seeing true happiness! Enjoy Bhutan:) Bhutan is on my travel list! Will keep your post as an inspirational post, so when I am not happy i will look back at this and realize that there is more to life than the things that money can buy!

  8. Your point about feeling restricted with strict organizational structures really jumps out at me. I think that we are very easily stifled because of what we deem society’s norms, standards, and expectations. Thank you for sharing that point. It is evidence that we really do have a great potential to do fantastic things if we freed ourselves up and shook off our doubts and restrictions, inflicted on us by ourselves and by society. Congrats!

    • Thanks for your comment. I do sometimes wonder if I could go back and still be able to bring an open mindset with me… I now recognise those who couldn’t care less what the organisation thought, and still were successful despite the rules!

  9. Lately I find myself attracted more and more to what happiness means to different people and how they “find” it. Since I don’t have plans to move to Bhutan, I’m trying to cultivate a “joie de vivre” right here in Toronto with my 40-hour work week and all it entails. Thanks for sharing your perspective in a well-written piece.

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  11. Reblogged this on The First Gates and commented:
    Here is a wonderful post from the Bhutan Chronicles, a blog by two European professionals who found work in Bhutan, the country that replaced GDP as a measure of its wellbeing with the Gross National Happiness index. Reflecting on life in Bhutan, Antonia says, Coming from a competitive environment where superlatives are the norm, I find myself suddenly absorbed by this difference between driving myself to be happier and just accepting happiness.” Enjoy!

    • Thanks Morgan! (We’re actually displaced North Americans who have been living in Europe for the past while. Antonia is actually from Toronto, and I am from NH, though have not lived there in more than 20 years!)

  12. My friend who suffers from depression rang me the other day in great excitement because she had cleaned her toilet and she realised that having a clean toilet made her happy… which in turn made me realise that we often look for happiness in large eternal ethereal capacities but truly it can be found by acknowledging the small every day things.

    • …and everyday things which are within our control. There is something magical in discovering that happiness can be found in a sparkling toilet. I love the simplicity (and banality) of your friend’s discovery!

  13. Bhutan sounds like a great place – lucky you that you get to live there! Great post! Another reminder that sometimes it’s the simple things in life which make us happy and not the craziness that surrounds us which we think we need to find it or be it.

    • So much to learn! We’ll be updating our reading list shortly with more resources on both Bhutan and happiness. Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert is another one that explores the psychology of happiness…

    • Hi Stacy, You don’t always find love, you need to create it. I wasn’t sure I wanted to date my husband when we first met. He didn’t possess the qualities I thought I wanted, I gave him a chance and found out he had all the best qualities, kindness, respectful, no judgements on people. I dropped the fantasy (not college educated, didn’t dress the way I wanted, etc. What he possessed was so much more than my fantasy man. I have been blessed and happily married to him for 15 years.

      • I found the right man for me 30 years ago! 🙂 I am at a stage in my life that I don’t know what I want….I am a writer, used to be a diplomat and teacher….not sure what I really want out of life right now. I’m going to try your formula to jump-start my brain. ❤

  14. Really like this! This is, yet another post that I’ve read, about turning off our iPhones, un-plugging and getting out to enjoy life. What a bold move you took to move there! Thank you for this uplifting post.

  15. Beautiful post!
    When I went to Kenya a few years ago and saw the poverty, their lodgings and the low living standards, I felt sorry for them. But when I looked closer, I saw everyone smiling and enjoying all the simple pleasures of the every day life. I thought, I shouldn’t feel sorry for them because they aren’t as wealthy as we are, but that we are the ones that one should feel sorry for: we spend our lifes chasing money and material wealth while we forget the most important thing of all; being happy!

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  17. Happiness is dreadfully under rated. I’m now on a miniscule income, caring for my disabled and terminally ill daughter, but I’ve discovered things I’d never have known in other circumstances. Thank you for a wonderful post.

  18. Pingback: Finding Happiness | happy4today·

  19. ‘Happy’ has become the root of my own blog, interesting to see how you play with intention of the word and what it means to you. I like to see it as content and not as a competitive notion, as you mentioned. What a wonderful word, the meaning can change and so can we! Thanks for a great post!

  20. Pingback: 5 Things Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness can teach us about Strategy and Metrics | Strategic Workforce Planning·

  21. You made a good point about happiness! Everyone wants to be happy, but actually it is not that easy. Bhutan measures prosperity by gauging its citizens’ happiness levels, not the GDP. It’s amazing! I agree with your four points about happiness. Most people usually grab the good things that come their way instantly. However when things go awry, they get depressed just as easily. To be truly happy, one must know the importance of sacrifice. Sacrifice is a vital behavior one must learn in life for without it, pride settles in and blocks the path to happiness. While learning how to sacrifice things dear to you might be hard, think of the people who can be happy through your deed. Thanks for sharing!

  22. As a new visitor on your blog,I have got to say Wow! There are so many interesting and lovely places you never get to see. Thanks your post was very informative. I just googled bhutan to know more about the place.

  23. Pingback: Finding Happiness | Recycle. Reuse. Relove.·

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  25. Reblogged this on from "curiosita" to.. and commented:
    The happiest place on earth: Bhutan. I have always been fascinated by Bhutan’s Gross national Happiness. Here the author tries to answer this question: are you happier here? See if you can get an answer!

  26. One main component of the bhutanese happiness is the ‘Bhutan Strechable Time’ and the other is the constant bhuddistic questioning of our own ‘raison d’être’. Question the purpose of one’s existence and implement it in a relative time frame – you can’t miss it; happiness

      • Thanks. Someone once told me that the bhutanese are so content within themselves, that everyone has a place in the family and that we did not have to earn thst place by what we do but by just being. I thought that was so beautifully put and very aptly observed

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