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I recently watched a BBC news report on Bhutan, one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world with a GDP of a whopping $110 USD a month. Yet, the country is ranked #1 in ‘happiness’ in all of Asia, and #8 in the world. It is also the only country in the world that measures its people’s well-being by looking at Gross National Happiness (GNH) instead of GDP. Interesting. So you’re telling me I don’t need lots of money to be happy?

Plastic bags are banned, tobacco is pretty much illegal, it is mandatory to wear the national dress during working hours, employers are required to hire an equal proportion of men and women in their workplaces, education and healthcare are free, and the country runs a 100% on renewable energy and is considering going 100% organic as well. Oh, and my personal favorite: the calmest, road-rage-crazies-free ‘rush hour traffic’ you’ve ever seen!

Imagine if even a third of these practices were adopted by the western world. A smoke-free existence (and a reduction in associated diseases)? Gender equality in the workplace? Free healthcare (in the U.S.) and no student loans bogging us down? I don’t know about you, but even this much of change sounds phenomenal to me. I mean, the country has something called the Palace of Great Bliss, for heaven’s sake!

I’m not saying we should live like hermits, cut off from the outside world and culture. I do think that part of the Bhutanese culture, like wearing the national dress to work everyday, would drive me a little bit mental. But we can surely take steps to make simple changes such as banning plastic bags and tobacco, right? Maybe work harder towards free healthcare and education for future generations? Because honestly? It looks to me like this extremely underdeveloped, poor, isolated, ‘backward’ country is leaps and bounds ahead of us when it comes to living happily with oneself and one’s environment. Here we are, crying about lung cancer and depleting fossil fuels and deforestation and a lack of sufficient health insurance coverage and pollution and all these other issues, but we look down on the very countries that got it right a very long time ago and are living blissfully. Countries that are still heavily forested because their government regulates the amount and types of industries allowed and in doing so, limits the pollution people have to live with.

They may not have Google, NASA or Hollywood, but they sure as hell have that key to happiness we’ve spent our lives searching for.