Ben Henretig – TRANSCRIPT
So, yes. That is a selfie. But no, I didn’t have my fingers in the light socket, or had them in the blender. This image was actually taken at 6:30 in the morning, in a tent, at about 14,000 feet in Bhutan, which is a small Himalayan country above India and below Tibet that’s thought to be the happiest place on Earth. And I was weeks into one of the most challenging film projects in my life. A 42-day, 485-mile trip to cross Bhutan, border to border, by foot and by bike, with four adventure athletes.
Needless to say, I was in way over my head. So in addition to managing a film team of four, we, as a film team, we were carrying all of our film equipment. So we were tracking all the miles the team was tracking, but then we’d rocket ahead to get in position, to drop into plumber position, as I am here trying to get a shot of the team. And they’d rocket past, and we’d run and catch up. This was everyday. And we had stretches of ten days without power, so improvised a solar solution on our support donkey to keep our four cameras and two laptops charged for the duration of the trip. It was crazy.
And the irony was that, here I was, in one of the happiest places on Earth, and I, myself, was deeply unhappy. I came to Bhutan because I was fascinated by Bhutan’s concept of “Gross National Happiness.” And I really wanted to understand what we could learn from the Bhutanese about living happier, more meaningful lives. But here I was, so caught up in the frenetic pace of the trip, and was so much stressed in making this film, that I barely had time to stop, be in one place, and really connect with the beauty of where I was.
When I got home, it took me almost two months to unwind from the trip. And I reflected that this was a way that I’d spent a lot of my adult life: constantly in motion, often juggling multiple projects, experiencing lots of stress, and feeling like I didn’t have time for the things that really mattered most in my life. And so, I decided to go back to Bhutan. And the time I spent in Bhutan on the return trip was filled with some of the happiest moments in my life, and put me into contact with a way of being that was less about striving and ambition, and really all about connection — connection to others, connection to the natural world, and to a sense of purpose.
Today, I want to share with you a few stories from that trip to illustrate how the Bhutanese keep the sense of connection alive in their communities. First, I want to give you a little bit of context on Gross National Happiness because it’s how most people come to hear about Bhutan. For millenia, due to its geographic isolation, Bhutan had very little exposure to the outside world. And then in the 70s, as the first tourists came into Bhutan, the fourth king of Bhutan recognized that his country was at a crossroads. And that if you took the same approach to development, as other countries, his country’s unique traditions, culture, natural beauty, might be destroyed. So he declared Gross National Happiness to be more important than gross domestic product.
In the last thirty years, Bhutan has partnered with some of the world’s leading economists, psychologists, policy-makers, to transform gross national happiness from a slogan to a sophisticated indicator for well-being, with 33 indicators, and 9 domains, including things like time use, psychological well-being, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience. And it struck me as I went deeper with gross national happiness, that this is really a different way of conceiving of happiness and I think we’re accustomed here in the west.
We often think of happiness as the pursuit of pleasure, and I think it has something to do with our macro-economic picture as well. Aristotle coined this notion of happiness as hedonic happiness or well-being. But there’s another notion of happiness known as eudaimonic happiness or well-being, which basically says that happiness is the outcome or an expression of living a good life, living a meaningful life. a life with rich social connections, with a sense of purpose, where you feel life your strengths are being used in service of something greater than yourselves, than yourself. And I think this is what Bhutan is after with gross national happiness.