Imagine a country that measures its health as a nation not solely by the number of citizens who have lucrative jobs or money in their pockets, but also by how happy those citizens are. Does this sound farfetched? It’s not. The Kingdom of Bhutan measures what it calls “Gross National Happiness” rather than just Gross National Product (the total dollar value of goods and services produced in a country over a given period).
Doug Brattebo, Ph.D., associate professor of political science and director of Hiram College’s Garfield Center for the Study of the American Presidency, recently traveled to Bhutan as part of his fellowship with Global Education Policy Fellowship Program (GEPFP) to observe the country’s education policy, provide insight on an education policy challenge faced in the country and bring back information on Bhutan’s approach to education that can be applied in the United States.
“The central role that education plays in the life of Bhutanese students was evident in a rural school we visited,” said Dr. Brattebo. “Some students from the highlands walk two to three hours to school in the morning and also to get home again at night, but education is so central to community life, and to the future, that this is thought to be no special sacrifice.”
Bhutan was selected for the field study portion of the fellowship for three reasons: 1.) its views on happiness; 2.) the fact that few Westerners have the opportunity to travel to the country; and 3.) the unique opportunities and challenges the nation faces. One such challenge the GEPFP fellows focused on was Bhutan’s efforts to update its education system without “Westernizing” it.
“In essence, Bhutan seeks to modernize without surrendering the very best of its heritage and values,” said Dr. Brattebo. “This is not easy for any country to achieve, but Bhutan seems to be making an effective effort on many fronts. All Bhutanese students speak English, in addition to their native language.”
Dr. Brattebo’s interest in the fellowship program and in traveling to Bhutan came from his experience as the director of the Education Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP) from 2005 to 2008 – a precursor to the global version of the program for which he laid the groundwork – and also from an interdisciplinary course he teaches, “The Ethics of Making Money,” which examines, among other topics, the connection between money and happiness.
“Bhutan is committed to the notion that human happiness and material wealth are not the same thing, and that living mindfully, consistent with good values that preserve possibilities for future generations, is indispensable,” said Dr. Brattebo.
As part of the Bhutan field study, Dr. Brattebo visited two schools, Rinchen Kuenphen Primary School and Kuzgugchen Middle Secondary School, where he got to sit in on classes, meet with teachers and administrators and interact with students. He also had two meetings with officials from the Bhutanese Ministry of Education.
“I was particularly interested to learn about how Bhutanese students go abroad for undergraduate and graduate education,” said Dr. Brattebo. “I have been especially fortunate to know and work with students from Bhutan at Hiram College, and I am hopeful that more Bhutanese students might be able to attend Hiram in the coming years.”
Bhutan is not the first country that Dr. Brattebo has visited for insight into education and happiness … and it won’t be the last. During his tenure at EPFP, Brattebo traveled to China and India to visit primary, secondary and higher education institutions, some of which are world-renown. In autumn 2017, Brattebo will co-teach a class with Acacia Parks, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology, called “Kiwi Contentment: Human Happiness in New Zealand” which will conclude with a December study abroad trip to the country.
As for Dr. Brattebo’s personal views on happiness?
“To me, happiness flows from purpose and from relationships,” he said. “Happiness comes from figuring out why you are on the planet, and then concentrating on work to make a contribution relating to the purposes of one’s life.”