Balloons of Bhutan

2011

Balloons of Bhutan

Balloons of Bhutan is a portrait of happiness in the last Himalayan kingdom.

Bhutan uses “Gross National Happiness” instead of “Gross National Product” to measure its socio-economic prosperity, essentially organizing its national agenda around the basic tenets of Buddhism.

In late 2007, I spent two weeks in Bhutan, interviewing 117 people about different aspects of happiness. I asked people to rate their level of happiness between one and ten, and then inflated that number of balloons, so very happy people would be given ten balloons, and very sad people would be given only one. I also asked each person to make a wish, and then wrote that wish on a balloon of their favorite color.

On the final night, all 117 wish balloons were re-inflated and strung up at Dochula, a sacred mountain pass at 10,000 feet, and left to bob up and down in the wind, mingling with thousands of strands of prayer flags.

Balloons of Bhutan was sponsored by the Bhutan Youth Development Fund, an NGO working to provide opportunities for local Bhutanese youth.