The ugly quest for happiness

What makes a person happy? How do we define the threshold of a happy life? A fundamental part of what makes a citizen happy lies in the individual person himself; as the level of contentment differs among individuals so does the level of happiness.

Therefore, it can be said to an extent that the level of happiness is invariably proportional to the level of individual contentment.

However, as priorities change with the changing winds of time buoyed by massive socio-economic development and a continuously evolving life, our level of contentment has also taken new shapes and meaning.

For instance, just about two to three decades ago, our citizens lived the most frugal lives yet the level of contentment was high. A farmer who toiled for the entire year and saw his fields ripen with rice and corn was content that his family’s bellies would be filled, so was the proud citizen who owned a two-wheeler scooter who would take his entire family on a joy ride and be visibly proud of it.

Likewise, civil servants no matter how remote they were posted or were paid invariably low were the most happy and proud lots as desires were then minimal. Owning a decent two-wheeler and the fact that they would be ensured of a decent pension when they retire inspired them to work harder, while Jigme Drukpa’s timeless melody Drukzhung dina gawa lu blared on the stereo-tapes of every Bhutanese household.

Fast forward to the twenty-first century; our streets are filled with the swankiest cars while citizens adorn themselves with the latest fashion garments imported all the way from London. Our children no longer toil and go to the forests to fetch firewood to keep our homes warm, while the traditional soot-filled homes and restaurants have evolved into neat electrified houses and business complexes with the most luxurious furniture and a cosmopolitan range of garments, foods and drinks.

Yet, there visibly seems to be a rat race for accumulating and wanting more. Today, just owning a car is not the ideal deal – it is who owns the most expensive and the sleekest suv. Owning a big plot of land in one’s ancestral village is no longer a family pride, but it is a matter of who owns the most modern and comfortable duplex in the heart of a bubbling metropolis.

So how did our contentment take a nosedive while the desire and want for more riches and luxury has become the norm of the hour? How is that our dear and coveted civil servants suddenly sees that their duties have gone drab and that they feel the need to move in search of bigger and grander pastures?

The answer lies in our level of contentment, which is no longer the simple and small is beautiful mantra that once was the secret happiness ingredient. Until Bhutanese see happiness in the smaller joys of life the hectic rat race of accumulating more than what we actually need will continue.

And sadly, until then, Bhutan’s timeless melodies like the Druk zhung dina gawalu will be discarded into the dusty shelves of our old faithful radio stations.