Balloons of Bhutan: A Happiness Project

Bhutan Culture
by Carlo Alcos Dec 6, 2011
In 2007, Jonathan Harris went to Bhutan with an idea and a bunch of balloons.

BHUTAN IS WELL-KNOWN for its unique way of measuring the well-being of its citizens. Instead of using an economic yardstick like Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as most countries do, they use Gross National Happiness (GNH). It came about in 1972, when Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the king of Bhutan at the time, committed to “building an economy that would serve Bhutan’s unique culture based on Buddhist spiritual values.” (Wikipedia)

Jonathan Harris, in his travels to the country in 2007, wanted to expose a lighter side to the notion. “Given the seriousness with which this topic is treated, I thought it would be fun to do something a bit silly…” he says on his website. He had a format that he followed with 117 people there. He would ask each one five questions, and with each question he would pair a photograph with it. These were the five questions (in brackets is the photo paired with it):

  1. Who they were (portrait of the person)
  2. What was their happiest memory in their life (their hands, palms up)
  3. What their level of happiness was between 1 and 10 (them holding the number of balloons with their number)
  4. What they would do if they were the king of Bhutan (them making a funny face)
  5. What their one wish would be (wish written on coloured balloon of their choice and photo taken of them with balloon)

At the end of the project, Jonathan took all 117 wish balloons to a sacred mountain pass called Dochula where he strung them up amongst all the prayer flags.

The end result was a multimedia website launched very recently called Balloons of Bhutan. It takes a minute or two to figure out how to navigate the project, but once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty addictive. The photography is outstanding, the stories interesting, and the audio compelling.

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