Bhutan: Culture and Conservation in the ‘Land of Happiness’

The nation of Bhutan – the self-proclaimed “Land of Happiness” – is arguably one of the few remaining places in the world uncorrupted by modern commercialization. But now, the small country in Southeast Asia could be in danger of losing parts of its authenticity and culture that made it so “happy” in the first place.

In 2005, Bhutan’s government instituted what it calls a “Gross National Happiness” policy, which is intended to “ensure that progress does not affect conservation and social harmony.”

The utter absurdity of a law mandating happiness does not warrant further explanation. But the irony is that it’s starting to look like the entire “happiness” effort was actually driven by commercialism itself. The country has launched a new tourism campaign, and new websites – such as TravelBhutan.com – are starting to dot the Internet landscape.

In another ironic twist, part of Bhutan’s tourism push involves what the government calls a “Noah’s Ark of wildlife” thriving in the country’s newest national park – including the endangered snow leopard, whose population in the wild falls in the range of 4,500 to 7,500 individuals, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

WWF says a recent study showed the leopards are “thriving” in the area, which is positive news for conservation. But what happens when Bhutan succumbs to the tourism trap? What will happen to the country’s culture, its people and conservation efforts?

The answer may lie in yet another irony: Bhutan’s definition of “happiness” is the assurance that “progress does not affect conservation and social harmony.” But aren’t conservation and social harmony considered “progress”?

It may be time for Bhutan to assess what really makes its people happy.

 

Not Just For Junior: Four Reasons Why You Should Adopt A Pet

It’s no secret: We love our pets. More than 63% of Americans have at least one, and it’s no wonder why: There are many proven benefits of pet ownership. Here are just a few of the reasons why you should consider adopting a new friend:

1. You’ll be in better shape. Numerous studies have shown that dog owners exercise more – an average of 30 minutes more per week – than people who do not have dogs. In fact, one study even showed that people walked 28% faster when accompanied by their dog than another human. We can easily make excuses not to go to the gym, but it’s a bit harder to  avoid dogs’ natural urge to release their energy.

2. You’ll be happier. Studies have also proven that pet owners are considerably happier than non-pet owners. Pets offer unconditional love and companionship, which are key sources of human happiness. Research has also proven that owning a pet reduces stress levels and anxiety, which also has health benefits.

3. You’ll be a better person. Caring for a pet – just like being a parent – requires patience, nurturing and love. As a pet owner, you’ll develop these qualities naturally and learn to not sweat the small stuff so much.

4. You’ll be helping a friend in need. According to the ASPCA, there are about 70 million homeless cats and dogs living in the United States at any given time, and many of these animals will be euthanized due to no fault of their own. If you are capable of giving one of these animals a good home, you have not only saved a life, but given a dog or cat (or both!) a friend they may have never had. Check out petfinder.com for a list of animals at local shelters.

These are just a few of the many reasons to consider adopting a pet. Before doing so, however, make sure you have both the time and financial means to care for the animal. Millions of the stray cats and dogs found roaming the streets were owned by irresponsible people who should have never adopted these animals in the first place. If you decide to adopt, good luck! If you are patient and caring, pet ownership will be one of the most rewarding decisions you’ll make.