Following the GNH Trail…International Happiness Summit, and Beyond…


The largest country in Latin America, Brazil, is among the many nations around the world that has been greatly inspired by Bhutan’s holistic development vision of Gross National Happiness as conceived and articulated by His Majesty Drukgyal Zhipa Jigme Singye Wangchuck. Brazil was the first country outside Bhutan that hosted the biggest international conference on Gross National Happiness in 2008.

The Brazilian Parliament even made a special provision to incorporate the pursuit of happiness as a basic human right inspired by Bhutan’s example. Congresso Internacional de Felicidade held its fifth edition of the International Happiness Summit, largest on the subject in Latin America, on November 5-6, 2022 in Curitiba.

Despite its many challenges, here is a country in search of true happiness…

Attended by over 3000 participants from across Brazil and countries around the world, the two-day Summit was extraordinary in scope and life-changing in depth. The event was a celebration of some of the finest examples in happiness perspectives, deep explorations in spirituality, exciting pathways in health and healing, timeless treasures of native cultures, diverse expressions in artistic creativity, all-galvanising renditions of the amazing Latin American musical traditions, incredible martial art displays, exhibitions, yoga sessions, invocations and meditations.

The organisers decided that the Summit should conclude with a keynote message from Bhutan. And, so it was. If the overwhelming collective reaction of the audience and wide media interest were anything to go by, Bhutan’s message seemed to have struck them at multiple levels. As my presentation ended, the hall rose up in unison and people surged forward to express their gratitude and affection in their own unique ways. Many were crying…

This home of over 60% of the world’s rainforest, the biggest producer of sugarcane, the land of Paulo Freire and Paulo Coelho, Pele and Ronaldo and Ronaldinho and Neymar, Gonsalves Dias and Jorge Amado and David Bohm and Carlos Nobre, this cradle of ancient civilisations and rich cultures dating back to centuries is truly the centrepiece of Latin American pride and heritage.

Having gone through massive amounts of documentation and video recordings of the best examples of the quality-of-life indicators of cities around the world as a member of the International Jury under the auspices of NewCities in 2019, I was struck by the extraordinary achievements of Curitiba City under all assessment categories taking it straight to the top position.

Being able to travel to Curitiba and seeing the city in reality convinced me that this amazing spot of Brazil far exceeds the glimpses that I obtained from my assessment of the reports. A special helicopter ride over the city made my conclusions even stronger. 

The privilege of a warm welcome by the revered Mayor of Curitiba, Hon. Rafael Greca Valdomiro de Macedo, was deeply humbling as well as edifying. The veteran public servant has been Mayor three times and built the city as a model of civic excellence and sustainability. Hon. Mayor talked with high regard and deep affection about Bhutan and hopes that we could work together. A gift of the iconic Brazilian national tree, Araucaria, was truly moving.

The Hon. Mayor posted on his Instagram page his deep reflections on our meeting that touched upon the principal themes of our most heart-warming conversation.

The Vice Governor of Parana State, Hon. Darci Piana, was very warm and welcoming and spent time going over the evolution of the State to be among the top candidates for global recognition by virtue of its enlightened approaches and enviable achievements.   

Curitiba has been part of the quad grouping with Benin, Costa Rica and Bhutan as models for sustainable development. This incredible country, this amazing City look up to Bhutan for inspiration and as an example of holistic development. GNH has been a most cherished dream in these parts…

As an extension of the major theme of happiness that the Summit concerned itself with, the organisers decided that I should share Bhutan’s unique vision of Gross National Happiness with the honourable Members of the Federal Senate of the Brazilian Parliament, their Deputies and Staff under the aegis of their e-Citizen public out-reach programme and speak on the subject of “Happiness and Public Policy”.

I was deeply struck by the openness and welcome that this august institution demonstrates toward fresh visions and novel ideas from far and wide. The spirit of warmth and goodwill was so palpable across the wide corridors and in and out of the offices of this giant Senate building. My address in the Senate Auditorium and interview with the Senate TV will be shared across the society via mainstream and social media channels. Dr. Flavio Josѐ Arns, honourable Member of the Senate from Parana State and the Secretary General of the Senate, Ms Illena, are keen to keep our conversation alive.

A special highlight of my visit to Brasilia was the fortuitous visit to a most incredible little school just on the outskirts of the capital city in Nücleo Rural Jerivà that started in 2015 with just three children whose number has swelled to 210 now. Founded by Principal Dr. Leticia Araùjo, The Tree School is a perfect example of “My Green School” in every sense of the term operating as it does on all the eight levels of consciousness as depicted in the Sherig Mandala.

My gracious hosts made sure that I was able to obtain important glimpses of some of the most iconic landmarks both in Curitiba as well as in Brasilia and enjoy the quintessential Brazilian hospitality to the fullest.

Many extraordinary elements mark this Latin American country out. It is the fifth largest in the world, largest in the continent and among the greenest. There wide open spaces all over and the eyes can travel till the last horizon as there are, as a function of conscious planning, no giant structures that can shut out one’s view and vision from travelling to the beyond. Curitiba, for instance, has the highest per capita presence of parks and community commons in the country.

Brazil is home to some 126 nationalities from across the globe but one rarely hears of communal clashes and racial tensions that choke many countries. Brazilians are warm and welcoming. They open their arms and embrace you in a passionate hug regardless of whether you are a stranger or friend. They are courteous and considerate towards each other and reach out to those in need unconditionally.

I hardly heard anybody shouting or quarrelling or vehicle horns blaring throughout my two weeks divided between Curitiba and Brasilia. Most cities have been planned imaginatively and creatively to enhance the well-being of the citizens and residents. Brasilia, for instance, was designed in the image of an aeroplane, and peopled later. The national capital moved to this new city from Rio de Janeiro in 1960.

This footballing country of abundance and of timeless heritage and innovations in diverse fields, with all its enviable achievements, is in search of a mission that ‘stills the tooth that nibbles in the soul’. That explains why Brazil is so fascinated and inspired by Bhutan’s holistic development vision of Gross National Happiness.

It has been a most rewarding and fulfilling experience for me to see and feel this beautiful spot of our beloved Earth. I am deeply indebted to my most gracious host, Dr. Gustavo Arns de Oliveira, Founder, Congresso de Felicidade, and generous co-host, Dr. Matheus Pannebecker, PUCRS, for the joy of this incredible experience that I will always treasure with heart-felt gratitude and joy. And, receiving the Happiness Prize Award of the sacred geometry mandala from revered Dr. Gustavo Arns de Oliveira is a gift that I will cherish forever.

I am most grateful to all the high dignitaries in the government who welcomed me with rare warmth and goodwill. I thank all individuals and institutions at home and in the host-country who went out of their way to enable me to honour this most gracious invitation to an incredible country.  

May the sacred message of our beloved Druk Yul bless our land and all lands as we continue our shared quest for the fulfilment of the most passionate yearning of all human beings across time and space – happiness.

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  • Thakur S Powdyel, former Minister of Education.