In its ‘Emerging Destination’ category in the Wanderlust 2010 Travel Awards, an obscure and isolated nation in the foothills of the Himalayas caused some surprises by ranking third behind only Columbia and Madagascar. And the country is? Bhutan, a nation that presents innumerable boundaries to prospective visitors. Language, geographical isolation and the prohibitive cost of visas being only three of the plethora of factors that have contributed to its seclusion in the past.
However it seems though that the emphasis that Bhutan places on ‘Gross National Happiness’ is attracting increasing attention from travellers. Most countries around the world use Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as an indication of the health of the nation. Not so in Bhutan where Gross National Happiness (GNH) replaced GDP in 1972 indicating the county’s preference for happiness over economy, and GNH has been a subject of considerable international fascination ever since. The index is explained on the government website www.grossnationalhappiness.com including measurements of ‘stress’, ‘spiritual happiness’, ‘compassion’ and ‘generosity’.
Outside of Bhutan, the Happy Planet Index of 2009 ranked Bhutan among the happiest 12% of the countries surveyed. With the United Kingdom ranking within the bottom half of the table, it would be easy to conclude that a holiday to Bhutan would do us all the world of good. However look a little closer and you’ll spot Haiti, Burma, China, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Palestine all nestled among the report’s supposed happiest places in the world. The correlation between the GNH of a nation and its levels of repression and poverty is an interesting one – just a thought to bear in mind if you’re planning on jetting off to the other side of the world in search of happiness.