Why Bhutan is the Real “Happiest Place on Earth”

by Daniel Nikulin

The first day of spring is also fittingly, the International Day of Happiness and while Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom may have something to argue here, The Kingdom of Bhutan would sooner just smile and agree that their small Himalayan nation is the real “Happiest Place on Earth.”


As most developed countries keep busy tracking their GDP (Gross Domestic Product), Bhutan’s overall focus remains GNH (Gross National Happiness) and a better balance between the state’s economy and their people’s general well being. Steeped in Buddhist ideology, the understanding that quality of life extends to not only include the material but the spiritual development of its people has been turning international heads. Since first publicly mentioned (off-the-cuff) by Bhutan’s King Wangchuck in 1972, GNH has become a unifying vision for the country and any newly proposed national policy must first pass a GNH review to make sure it’s in line with this vision.

To measure happiness, Bhutan developed a simple system, generally referred to as the ‘Four Pillars of GNH’

A young mother and child in Hongtso.

  • promote sustainable development
  • preserve and promote cultural values
  • conserve the natural environment
  • establish good governance

Bhutan believes their pillar system is trans-cultural and can easily be applied to almost any nation’s development and standards plan and their ideals have been seriously discussed in annual global conferences and taught at universities worldwide.

As Burma remained south Asia’s last frontier, Bhutan quietly and cautiously opened its doors to the world while keeping its cultural integrity firmly intact. Evidence of the country’s happiness can now be seen everywhere; genuinely warm, piercing smiles are infectious and are proudly worn by everyone from the common farmer to the most devoted Buddhist monk. Tranquil, mountain retreats and serene, mystical monasteries sit in harmony with the natural landscape highlighted perfectly by the impressive Tiger’s Nest Monastery, perched high above a valley, built into the rock face of a precarious cliff.

Bhutan - Taktshang - Tiger Nest

As it is increasingly more and more difficult to find an unspoiled corner of the world, Bhutan is as raw and unspoiled as it gets. Annual tourist numbers (last year barely 100, 000 tourists visited) are strictly enforced to help maintain the country’s identity and lessen the human impact on the environment in general. And while it’s absolutely nothing like Disney’s Magic Kingdom, The Kingdom of Bhutan could very possibly be the real “Happiest Place on Earth.”

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