Explain the Bhutanese views on happiness.

Expert Answers
Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Bhutanese culture contains a very intricate view of happiness.

One aspect of happiness for the people of Bhutan involves embracing unhappiness as a part of human consciousness.  The Bhutanese construction of happiness advocates that the mind openly accept the reality of fear, pain, and misery.  When it does so, it is able to develop the capacity to understand these elements as a natural part of existence.  Energy is not spent in fighting these realities.  The Bhutanese culture does not seek to obliterate sadness. Rather, it trains the mind to recognize the natural presence of these forces in our world. This condition is vastly different than what it featured in the Western world, as author Linda Leaming suggests: “We in the West want to fix it if we’re sad, ... We fear sadness. It’s something to get over, medicate. In Bhutan there’s an acceptance. It’s a part of life.”  Happiness is evident in this natural acceptance because it reduces the unnecessary energy used in trying to push away the misery that is inevitable.

A significant part of this equation for happiness is the Bhutanese attitude towards death.  In many parts of the culture, thinking about death is a part of daily life. Whereas death in the West is seen as something to avoid, the Bhutanese readily accept its presence as evident in many different parts of life.  Children are exposed to deatg at an early age, while adults think about death "at least five times a day."  In thinking about death so much, Karma Ura, the head of the Centre for Bhutan Studies, says happiness is experienced because the person has moved beyond the need to offset the reality of death:  "Rich people in the West, they have not touched dead bodies, fresh wounds, rotten things. This is a problem. This is the human condition. We have to be ready for the moment we cease to exist.”

There can be a natural happiness in accepting death as a part of existence because then death is seen as organic.  There is a greater chance of happiness then because energy is spent welcoming it.  Energy is not spent trying to forcefully go against it. The philosophically painful questions that often accompany death are put aside when it is accepted as organic to life.  

The Bhutanese approach suggests that if we don't question happiness, why should we question unhappiness?  The Bhutanese do not question why life enters the world and thus they should not question why it leaves.  For the most part, acceptance of both realities, life and death, happiness and unhappiness, is where the Bhutan culture has its strengths.  An open embrace of unhappiness and death are instrumental elements in the Bhutanese notions of happiness.