When budding naturopath Samantha Bennett was selected as one of 20 young social change makers as an ambassador for a revolutionary approach to development called Gross National Happiness (GNH), she began a quest to show the world why happiness is no laughing matter.
Samantha Bennett was experiencing a period of transformational change when she stumbled across the Slow Change Experience Program. It was created to give a select group the chance to experience a life-changing trip to the small Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, and share their insights to nourish their local community.
After excitedly applying in 2016, the naturopathy student and keen permaculturalist was blown away to learn she was one of 20 ambassadors selected by the Gross National Happiness Centre in Bhutan from Australia, the UK, Netherlands and Germany to embark on the trip of a lifetime.
Over 12 days Samantha became immersed in Bhutanese culture and an entirely different development paradigm as she explored the only country to measure prosperity through the social and environmental health of its citizens and natural environment over Gross Domestic Product.
The adventure saw Samantha meet members of the United Nations, visit schools where GNH values are promoted as part of the curriculum, hike across the land, and even sit in a basket while being hoisted across a river.
"The Gross National Happiness index measures the progress of a country in a holistic way and acknowledges that the beneficial development of a society takes place when material and spiritual development occur side by side to complement and reinforce each other, providing a more sustainable present and future," said Samantha.
"I was joined on the trip by conservationists, bloggers, writers and social entrepreneurs who share a desire to explore unfolding human kindness and our possible roles in creating sustainable change that serves the needs of our communities. Seeing this way of life in person spoke to my deepest truth I’d been longing to connect with and express.
"Together we learned firsthand about how Bhutan reveres the fundamental values of kindness, equality and humanity through the GNH model, and gave me an insight into what real sustainable happiness looks like.
"It left me with a drive to encourage people to think about sustainable change in new and achievable ways, and to raise awareness of self-care strategies to achieve the human connection we all crave for. It was invigorating to be immersed in a community where such emphasis is placed on connecting to the self through meditation, mindfulness and nourishment," said Samantha.
The insights Samantha gained on a personal level were also profound.
"I now realise how little we need as people to be really happy. True happiness comes from serving others, living in harmony with nature and realising our own innate wisdom, versus the fleeting satisfaction that can come with more superficial material gains," said Samantha.
"What struck me most was how families and communities work together to achieve common goals. There are no childcare centres or aged care facilities - just family and community initiatives."
But does the Gross National Happiness index truly serve its people? The Director of GNH would argue so, pointing to the reduction of poverty in Bhutan from 30 per cent in 2000 to 12 per cent by 2013.
Samantha said the experience as a GNH ambassador had left her with the conviction that a holistic approach to development had never been more important.
"As GDP grows we often see an equal decline in health and wellbeing. We are living in a time where our consumption is higher than the production of natural resources, and no one is untouched by this," said Samantha.
It is the only country in the world that is carbon negative.
It is considered the Indigenous medicinal closet of the East and there is great emphasis and respect for traditional medicine and its practices.
The tiny kingdom introduced the revolutionary concept of 'happiness' as a measure of good governance in 1972.
It is the only country in the world to outlaw the harvesting, production and sale of tobacco and tobacco products.
It is the first country in the world to place specific constitutional obligations on its residents to protect its environment. This includes a rule that at least 60 per cent of Bhutan must remain under forest cover.
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