In July, I traveled to the Kingdom of Bhutan for two weeks with Niswarth, a Tang Institute Learning in the World program. The aim of the Niswarth program, which means Non Sibi in Hindi, was to share our experiences through empathizing and respecting those who live in a different environment. Despite our different ways of living, I realized that the people I met shared the same dreams and often faced the same challenges as people in the Andover community. Of all my experiences in Bhutan, the country’s emphasis on happiness had the greatest impact on me. With time, I continue to understand that gratitude plays an important role in the lives of many people I met in Bhutan.
We started our trip at a cow farm in the Haa Valley, a valley in the north of Bhutan that consists of several rural villages. There, our hosts welcomed us with warmth into their simple lives and seemed to take so much joy in watching us try to milk their cows. Seeing their enthusiasm renewed me. This circle of welcome and gratitude is what I experienced everywhere I went in Bhutan.
All this said, relying on cows in a traditional farm for your livelihood cannot be as simple and idyllic as it looked. I’m sure our hosts at the farm in Haa Valley faced many challenges, and yet, their joy was as authentic as the Earth they lived on. In their very essence, they didn’t rely on anyone or anything to be happy. The people I met were all filled with contentment, something I constantly strive to have.
From the start of the trip, I was aware of the role Buddhist spirituality played in Bhutanese life: humility, reverence, contentment, and gratitude are core values that the religion embodies. These values permeated through the people I met in Bhutan, who showed me through their openness and acceptance that happiness is not something that is handed to them. This opens a path towards true gratitude, which, I believe is to be thankful for the here and now, for what life is, whether it is what we want at that moment or not. Gratitude means understanding that even pain or disappointment can be a gift; a lesson.
This time of year, gratitude is often emphasized due to the holiday season. It begins with Thanksgiving which brings me to the things I am thankful for — a reunion with my family and a bounty of food and love around us. This extends to Christmas, when I am reminded of those who have less than I do. Spending two weeks with the Bhutanese was so easy because they were naturally inclined to seek out the good in others. Their generosity was not limited to food or things, but included in their belief in us as valuable people who were there to contribute and share our ideas. I’m thankful to have met so many people for whom gratitude is a way of life, and not just a season.
I left a part of me in Bhutan and I hope to return to my Bhutanese family the first chance I get. The spirit of happiness and the relationships we made will go on for, I hope, a long time. Because Andover’s theme of the year is gratitude, I think it vital to learn to be thankful in our daily lives. Here, students are immensely busy and juggle copious amounts of tasks, however, it is important that everyone in our community pause in moments of stress and reflect on one thing, big or small, to be grateful for. I’ve learned to embrace all aspects of my life and be grateful for each one, just like many of the special people I met in a place where gratefulness is truly at its core.