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  • 18 February, 2024

Nepal: The Happiest Country

Nepal: The Happiest Country
Through the trials and tribulations of life in Nepal, the people's inner peace still shines through. Photo by Mehmet Turgut Kirkgoz via Pexels

In a world often dominated by news of strife and challenges, it is heartening to recognize and celebrate moments of joy and positivity. In 2022, Nepal ranked as the happiest country in South Asia in the World Happiness Report. This victory was well-deserved and uplifting for the small Himalayan nation, which often remains excluded from acknowledgement and praise in the global forum. Despite experiencing continuous economic, social, and environmental challenges, Nepal‘s ranking as the happiest country comes as a testament to its greatest asset: the resilience and spirit of its people.

The UN World Happiness Report is an annual survey published by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network division of the United Nations. It evaluates countries based on various factors, including income, social support, life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, and perceptions of corruption. Data for the report is collected by the World Gallup Poll, which asks 1,000 citizens from more than 150 countries to rank their quality of life on a Cantril ladder scale, from 0-10, to assess their overall happiness. Based on these comparative findings, in the 2022 report, Nepal surpassed its regional counterparts to claim the title of the happiest nation in South Asia.

Based on the findings, the key factors contributing to Nepal‘s high happiness index are its strong sense of family, community, and social support, a connection to nature, values that prioritize tradition, religion, and spirituality, and a lifestyle rooted in simplicity. 

I further analyzed these results, searching for the reasons why Nepalis rated their lives as they did on the Cantril ladder. I based my small research on my own awareness and familiarity with the nation, the thoughts of a close Nepali friend of mine, and the perspective of Manisha Sapkota, a prominent figure in Nepali society.

Manisha is a 26-year-old educated Nepali whose work and experience in Nepali society are very much based on awareness and engagement, and who I think is an accurate representative of most viewpoints in the nation. For this reason, I invited Manisha to sit down with me and discuss this topic of Nepal’s victory as the Happiest Nation in South Asia. 

We both agreed that an overwhelming theme lies at the heart of all of the victory: a life rooted in gratitude. Let us further explore each key determinant. 

Natural Beauty

It is certain that Nepal is most known for being the home of the world’s tallest mountain, Mount Everest, and the majestic Himalayan range. This provides an overwhelming sense of pride to Nepalis, as they are hosts to the most legendary wonder of the world, one that tourists flock to from all regions of the globe in order to experience its grandeur and power.

While the Everest region and the Himalayas undoubtedly offer world-class views of nature and wide open expanses to view, explore, and engage with, mostly all of the landscape in Nepal offers the same sense of vibrance, brilliance, and wonder, from the southern low-altitude region of the Terai to Nepal’s alpine Trans-Himalayan region and everything in between.

Nepal’s geographic environment is a feast for the senses. However, Nepal’s natural beauty isn’t only impressive to look at; it plays a significant role in promoting happiness among its inhabitants due to the many values that it instills: gratitude, humility, peace, and connection.

Natural beauty is a source of great pride and joy for Nepali people.
Photo by Sebastian Pena Lambarri via Unsplash

Nepal’s natural environment provides a natural playground for all ages: a space to explore, enjoy, utilize, and discover and a space of peace and purity. Because of this, most Nepalis develop a strong sense of connection to nature, which is known to help us emotionally as individuals. Fresh air, time spent in nature, sacred spaces, and a connection to the natural world.

From the majestic snowy peaks of the Himalayas to the tranquil turquoise lakes and lush green valleys, Nepal offers a breathtaking backdrop for a life filled with wonder, appreciation, and gratitude and commands respect and humility. Because of this, Nepalis have a sense of heightened awareness, connection, and gratitude for their beautiful country.

This value of gratitude affects other parts of their lives, as gratitude is a main value in Nepal and exudes from many aspects of life there, including its natural environment. Gratitude is critical to experiencing happiness, and Nepal’s natural beauty instills immense gratitude. 

Strong Sense of Community and Family 

Despite being a diverse country with numerous ethnicities, languages, and cultures, Nepali society is characterized by a spirit of solidarity and cooperation. The concept of sambandh or interconnectedness is deeply ingrained in Nepali culture, fostering strong bonds among individuals and communities and reinforcing a sense of belonging and unity.

This is prevalent in Nepali daily life, and includes the strong social connections Nepalis have within their communities, as well as in the greater community and nation at large. Nepal is known for its collective recovery in the face of disaster, all coming together to help one another and lift each other up, rebuild homes, share food, care for each other’s children, and support general needs. This was demonstrated fiercely in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquakes when government relief was delayed. The citizens helped each other to survive.

This neighborly humanitarian assistance was not rooted in greed and competition but in selflessness and helping each other to survive collectively. More so, this behavior is not just displayed in times of emergencies – it is a deep-rooted value set and a sense of a collective experience and shared national pride that promotes this behavior in all aspects of their society.

Neighborhood boys gather to celebrate Holi, preserving intrapersonal connectedness.
Photo by Kabita Darlami via Unsplash

It is rare in Nepal to ever feel alone or unsupported. In many Western nations, this is not the case, as values of individuality and competition fuel the lifestyle. However, a strong sense of community support and a sense of belonging are critical factors in determining one’s personal happiness, as humans are social creatures who are predisposed to require and thrive off of relationships and codependency with others. Nations and cultures that incorporate this inherent value tend to cultivate happier individuals than those societies that do not place an emphasis on this value and type of collective lifestyle. 

In addition, Nepalis place family relationships as a top priority, which further supports the idea that Nepalis feel supported and collectively invested in others. In Nepali society, family takes precedence, and mostly, all decisions are made based on the idea of strong familial ties and respect for family members. It is commonplace for extended families to all live together, as different generations support each other financially, physically, and emotionally.

Married couples often move into the home of the parents, as well, elder parents always live at home with their children. There is no concept of nursing home culture in Nepali culture, and, with all its pros and cons, it is rare that the youth will live independently. Therefore, families most times reside in one big house together, and all work to support each other as individuals and as a collective whole. This reinforces the idea that it is rare to feel alone and unsupported in Nepali society and fulfills the human need for support and belonging.

Religion, History, and Cultural Traditions

Nepal has a very rich history, culture, and spiritual and religious presence, all of which are embedded in everyday life for Nepalis. Religion and culture are of utmost importance in Nepali life, as ones religion and spiritual beliefs drive their core values, determining their lifestyle, behavior, and therefore, culture. Moreover, Nepali culture is deeply religious and spiritual. 

According to Manisha, religious belief is a major determining factor as it can contribute to happiness in several ways. She explains how it provides a sense of purpose, community support, and opportunities for spiritual fulfillment in Nepali society, all important factors for well-being. “In Nepal, religion plays a significant role in daily life and people find happiness through their faith, rituals, and in the sense of connection it provides with others and with something greater than themselves. This sense of spiritual well-being can positively influence other aspects of life, contributing to overall happiness,” she explains. 

The sense of connection and happiness fostered by traditions.
Photo by Kabita Darlami via Unsplash

The society is unique in that it enjoys a peaceful religious fusion of Hindu and Buddhist beliefs and culture. The majority of Nepalis are Hindu, but a large population is Buddhist, and most families practice both religions as a tribute to their Nepali heritage and culture. Manisha explains how Hinduism and Buddhism are parallels in Nepal, and that both respect each others cultures very much, as they are both representatives of peace.

Additionally, the two religions are very visual, expressive, and symbolic styles of spirituality, and traces of their beautiful imagery are seen everywhere. It is common to see golden statues of Ganesh and Shiva wrapped in marigolds underneath Buddhist prayer flags flapping in the wind. Nepali society is very traditional and the majority of citizens of all ages respect and follow its cultural and religious rules fiercely, culminating in endless vibrant festivals, ancient temples dotting the landscape, people reciting prayers numerous times throughout the day, traditional dress on all occasions, religious sculptures everywhere, and daily visits to temples for forehead tikas and blessings.

Manisha explains that Nepalese people start their day by worshipping God and doing puja prayers, which provides them with good vibes so that they will be happy for the entire day. The younger generations are starting to break out of such traditional behaviors as modernity and globalization set in; however, there remains a strong sense of religion and culture even among them, as it is ingrained into Nepali life. A sense of pride in these beliefs and traditions plays a major role in the very essence of being Nepali. This strong sense of culture, tradition, and spirituality bring a sense of happiness, purpose, and belonging to individuals, and a feeling of collective hope and belief, into the community and home.

Simplicity and Adaptability

Due to their spirituality rooted in gratitude and simplicity, Nepalis enjoy a very simplistic lifestyle. Much of Buddhism is founded in beliefs of non-material accumulation of wealth, and Hinduism places emphasis on religious belief over wealth. In addition, Nepal can be a challenging environment in which to live, due to weather, temperature, and infrastructure, and so Nepalis learn at a young age not to expect excess material goods in life, or even reliable electricity, wifi, or water sources, leading to a life of gratitude for what they do have, and not endlessly searching for more.

This fosters a sense of adaptability and simplicity that people of other nations often do not have. The culture is traditional in nature and does not necessarily need or want to incorporate new complicated methods of doing things, and finds peace and contentment in its traditional ways, pace, and approaches to life. Manisha explains that the religious beliefs of Hinduism and Buddhism promote contentment with a simpler lifestyle that emphasizes gratitude and interconnectedness, despite any economic and infrastructure challenges.

Despite suffering from infrastructural challenges, the people of Nepali maintain a good spirit.
Photo by Kabita Darlami via Unsplash

There is a beauty in simplicity, and Nepalis have found it. There is a beauty in not longing for goods and the future, but enjoying a simple presence, founded in gratitude. This provides a great sense of happiness internally as well as collectively, and is a very important aspect in Nepali life which sets it apart from other cultures and societies, especially in the Western world, where capitalism and competition run rampant. 

In conclusion, Nepal’s ranking as the happiest country in South Asia highlights the importance of non-material factors in determining happiness, and brings other factors to light as equal determinants of a happy life. While economic prosperity certainly plays a role, it is not the sole determinant of well-being. Factors such as social connections, cultural values, and a sense of purpose and belonging are equally crucial in fostering happiness and life satisfaction.

However, it is essential to acknowledge that Nepal does face numerous challenges on its path to sustainable happiness. Economic inequality, political instability, environmental degradation, and natural disasters continue to pose significant obstacles to the country’s development and well-being. Addressing these challenges requires a concerted effort from both the government and civil society to ensure inclusive growth and social justice. Recognizing and celebrating individual happiness in the face of struggle is perhaps more impressive than experiencing happiness in a nation that faces fewer societal challenges, as it demonstrates a heightened sense of internal strength and gratitude, exactly what Nepalis are known for. 

Therefore, as Nepal celebrates its status as the happiest country in South Asia, it inspires other nations in the region. By embracing values of compassion, solidarity, gratitude, and resilience, Nepal demonstrates that happiness is not just a fleeting emotion but a fundamental human right. As the world continues to navigate uncertain times, the example set by Nepal reminds us of the enduring power of positivity, community, and hope.

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