Happiness is the Way


Bhutan is a small highland kingdom in the Himalayas - it is similar to Ethiopia, being remote and moutainous and its people being poor. Yet statistics show that Bhutan is a much happier and healthier country than Ethiopia.

I had hoped to join an Embroiderers' Guild organised tour to Bhutan in 2010 and every year since, but have failed to raise the funds. Ever the optimist, I am now hoping to join the next Embroiderers' Guild tour to Bhutan in April 2015.

The main benefits of my making such a journey would be that I would learn more about Bhutan's use of Happiness Impact Statements (and promote their use in Ethiopia), find a school to link with Empress Mentewab School, and bring textile ideas and techniques back to share with Dib Bahir weavers.

kira (detail) - the dress worn by women in Bhutan
kira (detail) - the dress worn by women in Bhutan

Happiness Economics

Conventional economics is concerned with Gross National Product (GNP) and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as indicators of a country's progress. Happiness economics is the study of a country's quality of life; it assumes that to most people happiness and good health are more important than having lots of money.

In Ethiopia there is great emphasis on economic growth. Yet some forms of development seem to me to be "uneconomic" since they cause more damage than good to the population and environment. Take, for example, the recent upgrading of the 100-kim Gonder to Debark road. The new road is smoother and much wider, allowing traffic to move faster. Being able to drive at top speed from Gonder to Debark will benefit merchants and transportation services. However, I find that I feel very unhappy about the road because this "advantage" of speed is offset by the unhappiness that has already resulted and will result from:
  • more traffic accidents involving injuries and deaths to road users, including pedestrians
  • more animals and birds maimed and killed
  • environmental damage as a result of the construction work (including local rock and gravel extraction) and increased vehicle exhaust and noise pollution
  • loss of income to and resentment from local farmers who are having their land forcibly taken from them
  • the growth of mass tourism to the Simien Mountains that will result from improved access
Gross National Happiness Index

In 1972, the king of Bhutan coined the term Gross National Happiness (GNH) and created the first GNH index. Bhutan considers the pillars of GNH to be:

(1) promotion of sustainable development,
(2) preservation and promotion of cultural values,
(3) conservation of the natural environment, and
(4) establishment of good governance.

All policy proposals in Bhutan have to pass a GNH review based on a GNH impact statement. Bhutan is the only nation in the world that puts happiness at the forefront of its government's policies.

You will not find signs advertising Coke or Pepsi in Bhutan; plastic bags and cigarettes are banned; you will not see wrestling on television there. All these are seen as not being conducive to people's happiness, along with extensive tourism. Bhutan discourages mass tourism by imposing a tourist tariff of $250 per night and by tight control (tour operators must submit tour plans for approval).

Bhutan terraces
Bhutan terraces

Bhutan's government decided that deforestation led to unhappiness.

In Ethiopia, forest cover has fallen from 40% in 1900 to 2.7% now - a national catastrophe. More than 200,000 hectares of forest are disappearing annually across Ethiopia resulting in 2 billion m² of top soil being lost each year due to erosion, reducing farm yield potential by 2% annually. No wonder Ethiopians are not as happy as the Bhutanese.

In Bhutan, 72.5% of the country is forested and its strict conservation laws ensure that this figure will not decrease whilst at the same time promoting sustainable development.


Obviously, ill health and bereavement cause sorrow and having sufficient money generates a feeling of well-being. Although research confirms that money does correlate with happiness, the rate diminishes with more money. This is the Easterlin Paradox. Aspirations increase with income so that after a person's basic needs are met, relative rather than absolute income levels affect well-being. So a rich person can still be unhappy.

Research has also established that people are happier if they:
  • have strong and frequent social ties
  • live in healthy ecosystems
  • experience good governance
  • have spare time and control over the amount of spare time they have
  • feel they have control of their own lives and happiness levels
Developed and developing countries are following Bhutan's example, producing GNH indices. Headlines such as "Thailand's Gross Domestic Happiness Index Falls" (2007) will become more common with increasing interest in GDH and GNH fluctuations. (The Thai GNH index is based on a 1-10 scale with 10 being the happiest - in May 2007 the Thai GNH was 5.1 points.)

Thimphu festival
Thimphu festival

Happy Planet Index

The Happy Planet Index (HPI) records human well-being and environmental impact. Although not representing happiness levels, the HPI does measure the environmental efficiency of supporting well-being, taking into account life satisfaction, life expectancy at birth and ecological footprint per capita.

Of the 143 countries in the 2009 Happy Planet Index, Bhutan ranked 17th and Ethiopia 124th. Central American and Caribbean countries dominated the top of the table, whereas African countries were predominant at the bottom. There's a message there.


I feel that Bhutan's embracing of the importance of happiness is a model for all other nations and I wish to raise awareness in Ethiopia about this issue. It does not matter that Bhutan is a Buddhist kingdom and Ethiopia a federal republic inhabited mainly by Christians and Muslims - the GNH concept can be applied to any society that values sustainable development, cultural integrity, ecosystem conservation and good governance.

Countries such as Ethiopia that are doggedly striving for financial wealth as the answer to their problems need to think again.

Thimphu festival clothes
Thimphu festival clothes

"Springtime in the Land of the Thunder Dragon"

The Embroiderers' Guild (based in England) has arranged a 17-day tour of Bhutan from 23 March to 8 April 2015. The tour director is Lesley Robin who is an expert in the textile heritage and crafts of the Indian sub-continent.

Lesley has over 20 years' experience of organising tours in Bhutan and has designed this one to include visits to local craftsmen, cloth weavers (using sheep wool and yak hair), carpet weavers, spinners (including the spinning of nettle fibre), dyers (using vegetable dyes), art and textile museums, and a paper-making workshop (which uses high-altitude plants, leaves and flowers).

See the Embroiderers' Guild website for more information about this tour.

It would certainly make me very happy if I could go on the 2015 Embroiderers' Guild Bhutan tour! I would use the experience to:
  • promote the creation of a National Gross Happiness Index in Ethiopia, and also the use of happiness impact statements for decisions at local levels in Debark Woreda (county) in which my home village of Dib Bahir is located
  • find a primary school in Bhutan to link with Empress Mentewab School to promote friendship and education through the exchange of the children's drawings and letters
  • bring ideas and techniques back from Bhutan to the spinners, weavers, craftsmen and embroiderers of Debark Woreda with a view to improving the variety, quality and design of handicrafts for sale locally
  • enhance my personal development - particularly my writing, my drawing, and my handicraft designs
The tour begins and ends in Calcutta, India. The cost of the 2015 tour is £4,532. In addition, I would need to cover travel expenses from Dib Bahir to Calcutta and back with overnight stays in Calcutta when joining and leaving the tour group, so the total cost would be at least £5,500.

I am seeking a benefactor or sponsor who is willing to help me fulfil my dream of going on the next Embroiderers' Guild Bhutan tour.

I haven't had a proper holiday for many years, having been busy working in Ethiopia. Not only would this tour benefit Bhutan (through its tourist tariff) and Ethiopia (through the information and images I'd bring back and the links I'd make), but it would be a wonderful experience and holiday for me after 20 years of hard work, since first coming to Ethiopia in 1994.

I am an embroiderer (a former member of the Embroiderers' Guild) with an interest in textiles, so this Embroiderers' Guild tour is of particular interest to me.

Have you £5,500 you would like to put to good use for the benefit of Bhutan and Ethiopia? Would you treat me to the holiday of a lifetime? Would you give me my best birthday present ever? (My birthday is on 19 April.) If so, I'd love to hear from you.

CONTACT KATE to discuss this further.