In 1972, Bhutan’s fourth king Jigme Singe Wangchuck introduced a rather unique way of evaluating the country’s socio-economic prosperity. Based on Buddhist spiritual values, the nation’s success was based on the assessment of its “Gross National Happiness“, instead of “Gross National Product“. In a quest to explore the country’s “Gross National Happiness”, Brooklyn-based internet artist and designer Jonathan Harris travelled to Bhutan in 2007 where he created Balloons of Bhutan – a portrait of happiness in the last Himalayan kingdom.
Harris spent two weeks handing out balloons to Bhutanese people consisting of students, professionals, farmers entrepreneurs and monks. His website explores the catalogue of his 117 interviews which consisted of five questions: what makes them happy, what is their happiest memory, what is their favourite joke, what is their level of happiness between 1 and 10, and, if they could make one wish, what would it be. Based on each person’s stated level of happiness, Harris then inflated a certain number of balloons based on their level of happiness (the happiest people gave 10 balloons, while the least happiest gave just one) and took five photographs: them holding their balloons, a portrait, a funny face, their hands and them holding a balloon with their wish written on it.
On the final night, all 117 wish balloons were re-inflated and strung up at Dochula, a sacred mountain pass at 10,000 feet, leaving them to bob up and down in the wind, mingling with thousands of strands of prayer flags.
Watch Jonathan Harris’ exclusive TED Talk video below: