Hap­pi­ness is …

The story of one man whose en­deav­ours could give a new mean­ing to Bhutan’s GNH in­dex.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Sam­ina Wahid

Since 1972, Bhutan’s mea­sure of pros­per­ity has been through the for­mal prin­ci­ple of Gross Na­tional Hap­pi­ness (GNP) in­stead of the more com­monly known and mon­e­tary-re­lated Gross Do­mes­tic Prod­uct (GDP). Ex­perts de­scribe GNP as the phys­i­cal and spir­i­tual health of its cit­i­zens and en­vi­ron­ment. While Bhutan may not be a great world player, it is cer­tainly home to some very big ideas be­cause its pro­gram of mod­ern­iza­tion is not based on amass­ing wealth but on the hap­pi­ness of its peo­ple. In­cred­i­bly, do­ing so has not just im­proved the qual­ity of life of its peo­ple but has also brought vi­tal in­fra­struc­ture and fa­cil­i­ties to the most ne­glected corners of the coun­try. In fact, Bhutan’s econ­omy was the world’s sec­ond-fastest grow­ing econ­omy in 2007.

This trans­for­ma­tion can be cred­ited to none other than Dr Saamdu Chetri. Saamdu was born in a cow­shed of one of the most ne­glected parts of Bhutan; an area where phone and power lines have only re­cently been laid. While he had a suc­cess­ful ca­reer in the pri­vate sec­tor, Saamdu found him­self be­come a part of Bhutan’s po­lit­i­cal life when he was hand­picked for ser­vice by Bhutan’s first demo­crat­i­cally elected Prime Min­is­ter. To­day, he over­sees the Gross Na­tional Hap­pi­ness Com­mis­sion (GNHC) and has taken on the re­spon­si­bil­ity for the con­struc­tion of a cen­ter ded­i­cated to im­prov­ing the well­be­ing of the na­tion’s cit­i­zens. Saamdu says this cen­ter is go­ing to serve as an ex­am­ple of sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment and func­tion as a self­sus­tain­ing NGO, run­ning cour­ses for lo­cals as well as in­ter­na­tional visi­tors.

How­ever, for a man tasked with bring­ing hap­pi­ness to a na­tion, Saamdu’s own tale is one of im­mense suf­fer­ing and pain. Born into an im­pov­er­ished house­hold, Saamdu was one of eleven sib­lings all of whom had no choice but to work to make ends meet. Saamdu says he didn’t go to school till he was nine when his older brother took him to school – some­thing that wor­ried his fa­ther a great deal. Saamdu says his par­ents loved him a great deal and did not want him to leave the house. In fact, he adds, his fa­ther was so wor­ried about his health that he would send a cow with Saamdu to school. At the age of 14, how­ever, he had to quit school be­cause by that point, all his broth­ers and sis­ters had moved out and Saamdu felt it was his duty to help his par­ents. His day on the farm would be­gin at four in the morn­ing when he would have to walk at least a kilo­me­ter to fetch wa­ter af­ter which he would feed the ox and be­gin to plough.

Saamdu wanted to con­tinue study­ing but his par­ents had other plans for him. When he turned 15, Saamdu’s par­ents took him for pil­grim­age in Nepal where they tricked him into get­ting mar­ried. Saamdu says he had no idea he was about to get mar­ried till the girl was brought in front of him and the cer­e­mo­nial rites be­gan. Saamdu tried to re­sist but it was fu­tile. Not about to give up easily, Saamdu de­cided to make a run for it but his fa­ther-in-law caught him and begged him to re­con­sider be­cause his daugh­ter’s life would be ru­ined.

Saamdu re­lented and even­tu­ally he and his wife went on to live with his par­ents and had two chil­dren. He con­tin­ued with his ed­u­ca­tion at a col­lege in In­dia. One day, how­ever, she dis­ap­peared leav­ing Saamdu to take care of the two chil­dren. A friend from col­lege of­fered to help and even­tu­ally he ended up mar­ry­ing her only to have his first wife reap­pear briefly. To­day, she lives in Nepal and is strug­gling with men­tal ill­ness.

In spite of his suf­fer­ings, Saamdu says he never let life bring him down. He al­ways had a smile on his face but never in his wildest dreams did he think he would be the man re­spon­si­ble for Bhutan’s hap­pi­ness. As a fresh col­lege grad­u­ate, Saamdu was of­fered a job by the gov­ern­ment to ful­fill the king’s dream of de­vel­op­ing Bhutan’s pri­vate sec­tor – a task that was chal­leng­ing to say the least. The king had high ex­pec­ta­tions and there was very lit­tle room for er­ror. In fact, ev­ery time Saamdu said he made a mis­take, he was given a se­vere dress­ing down by the royal fam­ily.

Fi­nally, af­ter work­ing for sev­eral years in the cap­i­tal, Saamdu re­tired to his vil­lage so that he could go back to liv­ing among na­ture. But fate had other plans for him. When Bhutan’s first demo­crat­i­cally elected gov­ern­ment came to power, the Prime Min­is­ter sum­moned him to the cap­i­tal once again where he was asked to work for the cab­i­net of­fice. Five years later, he was cho­sen to head Bhutan’s first Gross Na­tional Hap­pi­ness Cen­ter in Thimpu.

Saamdu says the cen­ter con­ducts na­tion­wide sur­veys to im­prove peo­ple’s lives and find out why they were un­happy. Once the causes are de­ter­mined, so­lu­tions are pro­vided to change the way peo­ple live, thus mak­ing them hap­pier and at peace with their en­vi­ron­ment.

To­day, Saamdu is on the verge of re­al­iz­ing his dream of build­ing a cen­ter in a beau­ti­ful nat­u­ral set­ting where peo­ple from Bhutan as well as other coun­tries can learn how to lead hap­pier, well-ad­justed lives. The cen­ter, which will open on Oc­to­ber 18 this year, will ed­u­cate visi­tors about three ba­sic prin­ci­ples -- to be part of na­ture, to serve oth­ers with kind­ness and com­pas­sion and to dis­cover their in­nate value. This, says Saamdu, is the only way a coun­try can pros­per – by tak­ing care of the well-be­ing of its peo­ple.

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