Melam was one of those many young people who completed university degree and looked forward to a happy life. However, she was caught between excitement, insecurity and reality. And like all Bhutanese people, she was also faced with a dilemma of finding the right definition for what brought her happiness and how it connected to Gross National Happiness.
Odyssey into the life of Gautama Buddha some 2500 years ago had taught her, as every young Bhutanese children goes through, to adhere to the laws of birth, old age, sickness and death . But that’s not how Melam wanted to begin her working life. If given a choice, she wanted to go so far away from death that no question of choosing how to die ever occurred.
If there ever appeared an occasion to choose the way to die, she wanted to make it a voluntary affairs: whether to hang in neighbour’s orchard, run off the cliff or to eat extra tranquilizers and sleep to eternity. But such options are not available in the best of democracies when it comes to choosing life. One is born as a product of parents’ enjoyment and is left on the road for stretches to ponder on the purposes until one is driven to clinical depression and have to make choices of death sometimes.
Interestingly, people in my village believes that if one commits suicide once, then it not only shortens one’s life now only but for five hundred lives that follow in the future. It is never sure how many lifetime one will live but it is believed to happen as many times as there are dust particles on the banks of river Ganges.
Woooo!!!! That’s pretty too much. I guess we are already bored with this one life itself. But for Melam, she believed that this is one life that offered her opportunities. And to someone like her, even the forests, villages, towns and places offered her chance to explore. With college degree, she was all set to prepare to test her dreams, hopes, fears and aspirations.
In search of happiness, her mind started to drift everywhere as she hoped to land at her vague dreams. And as she drifted aimlessly, along came small moments of pleasure which often appeased her desires. Interestingly, fulfillment of desires did not bring happiness to her. It only took her to higher level of desire. Therefore, she decided to plateau some of her desires upon attaining some level. In leveling her desire, she began to understand that good life actually brought her happiness and not the fulfillment of desires. It didn’t take long time for Melam to harp on things that brought her happiness.
Over colours of Spring, wonders of Summer, Monsoon haze and dusty Winter months, she was able to scribble many things that brought her happiness but in the end, she settled down for good health, good work, indulgence in one’s own interests, having good colleagues and friends and in following her own personal ideals.
Like Bhutan Government who sold the ideas to donors and tourists, Melam started selling her ideas of happiness to her friends who helped buy the things she wanted sometimes. everytime she talked of happiness, she made it very clear that all the components of individual happiness should be accomplished in unison and not in parts. She believed that happiness was in accomplishing something and that also in the right way.
Accomplishment to Melam was made up of many small events. For her, being happy need not necessarily mean that she had to achieve. She was fascinated with the idea of reaching the places she saw on movies and pictures but it never mattered even if she never reached. She believed that she could see rainbow but may never touch it but there was happiness in seeing it and trying to touch and feel it. So her happiness was born from trying to attain the things she wanted to be or see but never became or saw. Surprisingly, there were times when she was able to attain some of her ideals in small pieces. So the happiness was a natural result of good life she led and not the reward that was presented to her for having attained her ideals.
When Melam dissected her everyday life, there was nothing extra ordinary about it. It was in fact made up of many everyday events where she had work to do, something she was looking forward to and something she loved or admired. She was also able to enjoy every new experience that came along by being in contact with people around her.
A feeling of stability became a platform upon which all her happiness depended and that stability, sometimes depended upon oneself. Sometimes, it was important to create one’s own vision so that we could always strive for that. And based on the vision, Melam made plans so that she was not confused although at times she was forced to make quick adaptations without preparation or much consideration.
In following her ideals, she was able to create a zest of life and with it, an array of interests followed; - of love, care, competition and so many other forces. Competition is needed because there are so many kinds of people around and competition becomes a sting.
However, other people around Melam were mostly those who had minds and hopes for success, but without actually contributing in essence. One of the greatest misery that is abundant in Bhutan, which in some way contributed to not so happy society was a lack of whole-heartedness which in many cases, especially related to good work made up for lack of training and other abilities.
As a natural habit she cultivated, Melam was actively interested in everything that went around him and through it, she sought the beauty and excitement. So in many ways than one, she enjoyed every event that made up her life without actually counting the days in the calendar. She preferred being let down often than being rather bored with nothing to do.
So, Melam was able to progress in her life because she was willing to step away from the past. She had learnt in schools that history offered more burdens from the past. Therefore, it was important to be flexible and adaptive to have attributes of the happy life. It was important to create harmony within ourselves as we blend with the external conditions like Brokpas of the eastern Bhutan and Layaps of northern Bhutan, who have built their lives and culture in places which to us seems to be devoid of every comfort.
And also for that matter, she stood above the crowd and coped with unexpected things so well that she had no time to brood and waste time on issues that were trivial.
There was no mistaking to the fact that a happy life did not mean plethora of luxurious items. Rich people do become sick and need not necessarily be happy while poor people, who have just basic things still look content. Having a party is having a good time and it cannot be mistaken for happiness. Therefore, happiness, in many ways than one is made up of things that are big and small and all those attributes and purposes in an individual’s life.
Achievements are fragile and rest on principles. A principle provides sense of value to people. This sense of values is built gradually during our lifetime. Over the time, community, society and country progresses to higher sense of values and these values become part of our culture which in turn form the basis for other values to evolve and take roots. And every value evolve from individual’s character and this character is built by an individual himself.
Character allows an individual to make independent judgment with regards to events and thoughts. Interestingly, events do not affect us but the way we think about the event does and therefore, it becomes necessary.
At work, most people in Bhutan would like to spurn a responsibility or duty. They would like to do what they always like but Melam, who is in pursuit of happiness uses all her knowledge to do the best she can in every situation and accept responsibility for the consequences. She also leaves some room for other people so that there is a free flow of ideas and views without prejudice.
She was used to listening to all sides of arguments before making any judgments and in it, she showed a sign of maturity. She was also tolerant enough to bear when someone stepped on her toes and all these were processes of living.
In pursuing for happiness, Melam learnt that she should always be learning something everyday. More we learn, more we enjoy. It was also important to create intellectual curiosity about the places and people around her. In other words, it was important to appease intellectual appetite by enjoying adventures of the mind.
In enjoying the work and doing it right, she got the satisfaction of filling vital need and joy in meeting her obligations. In it she found self—assurance and validity.
Happiness concerns everyone. Interestingly, it is also not ushered at certain age. It started to grow year after year, little by little until Melam realized that she had it. So happiness was in building within us and not finding anywhere else.
Most Bhutanese home in urban areas are under pressure today. At least more than half of the Bhutanese youths hope to get married, have children, and enjoy a stable marriage ever after. Many Bhutanese believe that their parents, spouses and children are the most important thing in their lives. Given the fact that we are seeing both the parents going to work, it has become difficult for families to get along. With relatively high incidences of divorce and marital separations in Bhutan and so many couples feeling the need to go their separate ways, it has shown just how difficult it is for people to live together satisfactorily at the best of times today. Having come to experience divorce of her brother and his wife, it effected the normal lives in Melam’s family. This effect on the family had a direct bearings on the society and community nearby. When divorce started to become a normal event, it reflected of not a very healthy society. Where there is a peaceful family, there is a peaceful society. Household break ups, and in most cases, children are being raised by a single parent and children-rearing becomes difficult as burden to look after the children usually fall heavily on one shoulder.
The children come under pressures too as the parent have all the power to coerce the child physically, psychologically and materially.
It is within the family that all children first learn to live with human beings first. Then they learn to share things, feelings, hope and aspirations. In a family, they also learn to resolve their problems and understand each other’s pain, create mutual trust and companionship. So the basic issue of happiness are all entwined in a good family where the children learn at a very young age. These values and principles that they absorb at an early age go so much in reflecting the future of our children and the society. When society is effected, the country is effected. So, an upbringing of children necessarily means that we are building citizen of a country. A violent family produces violent children who later becomes violent citizen. A well groomed child becomes a source of happiness for a family, society and therefore, a well worth citizen and contributes to country’s happiness or Gross National Happiness.