Students chase happiness in Bhutan, find meaning

Elizabeth Stoeger, Staff writer

Linfield students traveled to Bhutan over Jan Term in search of happiness.

“It was not so much that the class was to study happiness, but that we sought out to study how happiness (better read as human flourishing, or contentedness) is valued and used differently by Bhutan than by the United States,” senior philosophy major Josh Harper said.

The course “Moral and Civic Literacy and the Cultivation of Sustainable Happiness in Bhutan” was taught by philosophy professor Kaarina Beam. The class was a “comparative social philosophy course examining the concepts of moral and civic literacy in Bhutan and, by contrast, the U.S.,” read the course description.

A similar class was offered at Yale University around the same time as Linfield students were in Bhutan. “Psychology and the Good Life” became Yale’s most popular class with 1,200 students signed up to learn techniques for leading a happier life.

“Students want to change, to be happier themselves, and to change the culture here on campus,” the instructor of the course, Dr. Laurie Santos, said in an interview. “With one in four students at Yale taking it, if we see good habits, things like students showing more gratitude, procrastinating less, increasing social connections, we’re actually seeding change in the school’s culture.”

Senior Stephanie Beyer said the class gave her a new perspective in both her life and future work as a nurse. “One of the things I didn’t necessarily expect to learn was a lesson in simplicity. I often get caught up in the materialism of this life and it was really changing to be surrounded by a culture who actively resists those distractions.”

She hopes to incorporate both Eastern and Western medicine into her nursing and work to combine the two practices.

During the trip, students were able to visit museums and temples, listen to lectures given by a variety of experts in the humanities and environmental science, hike the Himalayan peaks, and live with a host family.

“Specifically, we were there to study the historical, environmental, and social particulars that led to this small country having such a big impact on how the rest of the world prioritizes happiness. Everything we did and participated in contributed to that framing of how profit is not the only means by which to judge a person’s or a society’s worth,” Harper said.

The most gratifying experiences for both Harper and Beyer were the relationships they forged.

Harper said he learned the most from simply sitting with people and asking them questions, “being able to just talk with someone, and find out what the menial, fun things are for them, gave me the best perspective on how people live differently.”

The lessons they learned in Bhutan will be of use to them in the future.

“This country changed me and also made me more confident in who I am and want to become,” Beyer said.

“It’d be a shame if nothing there would have moved me or challenged me. I met people that I’ve never met in my entire life who moved me and made me questions some of my realities.”