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7 ways to find true happiness in Bhutan

By BEA TRINIDAD, The Philippine STAR Published Dec 10, 2021 5:00 am

In my first week in Bhutan, right after quarantine, locals warned me that I might feel sick traveling along the winding roads. One woman said, "There's no straight road here."

The following day, I moved out of Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, to head to Trongsa, a district in Central Bhutan, where I was to teach for the next couple of months. A friend of mine living in Bhutan joked that being in Trongsa was like living on the Game of Thrones set. I nervously laughed, not knowing what to expect.

Bhutan is a spiritual nation, known for its practice of Mahayana Buddhism.

I didn't feel sick in the six hours it took to get to our destination. Instead, I noticed how the roads curved like a woman's body, the kind of woman that enjoys a plate of spicy curry and rice. Beyond food, Bhutan's greenery is enough to keep you awake for a long drive.

Besides being a green country, Bhutan is also known for being one of the happiest. It has inspired the world with its developmental philosophy, an index they call Gross National Happiness (GNH), an idea from His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the Fourth King of Bhutan, in the 1970s. At the core, GNH recognizes that every person's ultimate goal is happiness.

Before I arrived in Bhutan, I thought I would learn to meditate for hours. I thought it was time to be alone. I was wrong. Instead, I ate more rice than usual. I drank more whiskey than usual. I developed more curves than the roads we drove on. 

So, having lived amongst Bhutanese for almost four months, I started to ask myself: how does one become authentically happy? There are seven simple ways I picked up from Bhutanese day-to-day life.

Practice unconditional hospitality

No matter where you go in Bhutan, it is common to be invited into someone's home or a party. They will cook for you and introduce you to their family willingly.

A popular icebreaker would be, "How do you find Bhutan?" Whereas my immediate answer was always, "I love it." Their kindness is infectious, similar to Filipino hospitality. Just prepare for two things: Bhutanese drink before they eat. And they also like their food spicy.

Learn to let go

A local, who picked me up late for a wedding, shared an inside joke with me: "Do you know what BST stands for?" She continued, "It means Bhutanese Stretchable Time." I laughed because this reminded me of the idea of Filipino time, where we arrive minutes to hours late past the agreed time. There is a feeling of relief that you don't always have to rush somewhere. We can also learn to adapt to different situations.

You'll see Bhutanese Lungta (wind horse) prayer flags fluttering everywhere. They are meant to bring luck, longevity, prosperity and happiness when the wind hits them.

Sing a love song in front of everyone

I'm not sure who loves karaoke more — the Bhutanese or Filipinos? There are multiple karaoke places that people flock to in Thimphu. It is also not unusual that a karaoke session can serve as a dating place. As someone who can't sing, I've even braved the mic to belt out a love song or two.

There is something therapeutic and empowering about singing in front of a crowd, even if not in tune. And when the person beside you is hesitant to sing, invite them to a duet. Being vulnerable with someone builds better friendships and relationships.

Be compassionate

There are about 100,000 dogs in Bhutan. They nap everywhere, bark throughout the day, and head to the monastery. These dogs are part of the community. Bhutanese love even animals that are not their own — to the extent that during the pandemic lockdown, the military fed stray dogs by the direction of His Majesty, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.

The Buddha Point, where a giant golden statue sits in the mountains of Thimphu, is a place where you'll see people walking with prayer beads or just for leisure.

Breathe fresh air

Hiking is a national pastime. There are endless dramatic landscapes, from steep mountains to deep valleys. The backdrop is always the clearest blue sky and greenest mountains especially on weekends when people play basketball, volleyball, archery, and football.

The Buddha Point, where a giant golden statue sits in the mountains of Thimphu, is a place where you'll see people walking with prayer beads or just for leisure.

The author wears a Kira and Tego.

Take pride in your culture

Just take a look at Bhutan Street Fashion on Instagram , and you'll see that this is a proud country. Bhutanese women wear the Kira and Tego while the men wear Gho. I got the chance to wear one and was stunned by the intricate details and patterns on the garment. The Gho is also known to have the most oversized pocket in the world.

Bhutan's National Dress: A Tego, a long-sleeved jacket, is worn over a Kira by women.

Enjoy a bonfire and a glass of whiskey orara (alcohol made from rice, millet, wheat or corn)

Of course, the cold climate calls for it, unlike in the Philippines. But, the act of huddling around the warmth of a fire has a magical way of bringing people closer. Combine that with a glass of K5 Himalayan Whiskey orara,and that's how friendships are born.

Before I arrived in Bhutan, I thought I would learn to meditate for hours. I thought it was time to be alone. I was wrong. Instead, I ate more rice than usual. I drank more whiskey than usual. I developed more curves than the roads we drove on.

The secret to happiness is that there is no straight road. And in the curves and turns, the trip becomes more enjoyable when you are in good company.