With only five more sleeps until Santa’s sleigh departs from the North Pole, it’s safe to say that the ‘silly season’ (not sure what that is? click here) now has us all smiling from ear to ear, some of us admittedly more exhaustedly than others.
It’s easy to forget that while the year has been exciting and adventurous for some, for others it has been challenging and difficult, so take the time to spread a little happiness wherever you can this December. Smiles are contagious, and if we remember that everyone is fighting their own battle, then kindness should come easy. Most smiles are started by another smile, so get out there and be the reason someone smiles today.
Did you know that in the mysterious and intoxicatingly beautiful Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, the country’s success is actually measured by the happiness of its people, rather than by its economic growth? Surely we can all learn a crucial life lesson from this peace-loving nation, where the capitalistic Gross Domestic Product has been replaced with a more spiritual Gross National Happiness, a measure of the collective happiness of its people.
Actually, we can take a whole lot more than just a page from Bhutan’s so-called book of life. Blissfully remote and isolated, not to mention dominated by jaw-dropping natural beauty, this landlocked country sits between the mighty Himalayas, the powerhouse that is China and some of the most remote areas of India.
A harmonious Buddhist society shrouded in ancient tradition, Bhutan’s people are renowned for guarding their culture intensely, placing a strong emphasis on family, and fiercely protecting their pristine environment. The Bhutanese, who have clearly embraced modern life at a much slower stride than the rest of the fast-paced, technology-obsessed world, truly believe it is their fundamental birthright to live out a happy life in a healthy environment. If only the rest of the world could adopt the same values.
Here are 10 more things you didn’t know about beautiful Bhutan, one of the happiest, greenest and most sustainable countries in the world…
1. The booming, theatrical storms that often roll in from the Himalayas gave Bhutan its local name, “Druk Yul”, which means “Land of the Thunder Dragon”. The dragon also appears on the flag.
2. Committed to conservation, Bhutan was the first country in the world to make protecting the environment a constitutional law. Among the strictly-enforced environmental policies, one of them is ensuring that 60% of the country remains under forest cover at all times.
3. Bhutan is the world’s only carbon-negative country. It produces 1.5 million tonnes of carbon every year, but thanks to its 72% forest coverage, more than 6 million tonnes of carbon is absorbed. And clearly, well ahead of its time, Bhutan also banned the use of plastic bags back in 1999.
4. The capital city with not a single traffic light, Thimpu’s main intersections are manned by white-gloved policemen who direct traffic. When a single traffic light was once erected, public outcry resulted in its swift removal a mere 24 hours later.
5. With all those trees producing so much oxygen and fresh air, it seems rather fitting that Bhutan is the only place in the world where the production and sale of tobacco/cigarettes are banned.
6. A hiking and trekking mecca, Bhutan is home to the highest unclimbed mountain in the world. The world’s 40th highest peak, Gangkhar Puensum is 7 570 m (24 836 ft) high and thanks to the country’s more than 20-year ban on climbing mountains higher than 6 000 m (because the peaks are considered sacred), its summit remains untouched.
7. The highly endangered and culturally revered black-necked crane is protected by law and anyone found guilty of killing one of these sacred birds could be sentenced to a life behind bars. There’s even an annual festival every November that is dedicated entirely to the highly anticipated arrival of these migratory birds.
8. Embracing the modern world one slow step at a time, Bhutan was one of last countries in the world to introduce television. Only in 1999 did the Bhutanese government finally lift the ban on TV and the internet, and it was another four years before mobile phones were introduced. There is also a mandatory national dress code requiring citizens to don traditional garments during business/school hours.
9. The Divine Mad Man, an unconventional Buddhist teacher, introduced the rather comical belief that phalluses ward off evil and hence why you’ll see the ‘holy phallus’ painted on the façade of many homes and buildings.
10. An odd-looking creature, the takin, which is the national animal of Bhutan, is a rather bizarre mix of goat, cow, antelope and wildebeest.