Shiny, Happy People

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In Bhutan, the law states that “if the government cannot create happiness for its people, there is no purpose for the government to exist.” The small, constitutional monarchy in the Himalayan mountains, taking the constitutionally enshrined “Gross National Happiness” principle seriously, therefore aims to foster sustainable development, free speech, environmental conservation, and other laudable policy goals. As a result, it’s one of the happiest developing nations in the world.

As RealClearWire wrote, however, Bhutanese citizens also must fulfill their responsibilities in exchange for this happiness. As the Buddhist maxim says, “A little effort on your part will be much more effective than a great deal of effort on the part of the government.”

For example, as the World Bank explained, the Bhutanese government helped support women who have opened businesses in rural villages to preserve local traditions and create jobs to lure younger workers who might otherwise flood into cities. Happiness was the result.

“The whole process of planning the revival of our community has given us an opportunity to listen to each other and set a new vision for the stewardship of our culture, and the nature around us,” said Madam Pem, who started a restaurant that serves almost-forgotten traditional food in Nobgang, a village in the country’s west.

Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck is likely one reason why Pem and her fellow citizens might be joyful about their country. Soon after he ascended to the throne in 2006, he launched a democratization process, including scrapping anti-homosexuality laws in 2021.

The king in theory wanted to distance himself from the harsher periods in his country’s history. Political prisoners who allegedly suffered torture while in Bhutan are still in jail, for example. Most are from Bhutan’s crackdown on citizens who spoke Nepali in the 1990s. The government drove these people, who represented around 16 percent of the population at the time, into exile, argued Human Rights Watch.

Bhutan faces a bigger problem with its two titanic neighbors, India and China. The three countries have been engaging in negotiations in recent years over land claims in the space where their three borders meet, India Express explained. China has been trying to separate Bhutan from India, its traditional ally, ThePrint argued, citing an anti-India commentary in the Global Times, an English-language mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party.

Bhutanese Prime Minister Lotay Tshering recently said China has an equal say in resolving the dispute. Objectively, he was probably correct. But many in India thought his comments were extremely concerning.

Maybe they should not worry and just be happy.

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