On the eastern edge of the Himalayas, existing somewhere in between China and India, lies a kingdom of approximately 18,000 square miles that is recognized as the happiest place on Earth. Comprised of mountains and valleys, with luscious forests and various waterways flowing throughout, this land is home to just over half a million people. One of those people is Jigme Namgyal.
Well, Jigme isn’t exactly what one would call a “permanent resident” in those lands, also known as Bhutan. He spends much of his life traveling to various places around the world, and recently, his travels have brought him to the United States. And even more specifically, to the wonderful place that is Springfield College.
Before he was here, Jigme was spending the last eight years of his life going to school in India. His high school was a lengthy 12 hours away from his home in Bhutan, so being away from his family is nothing particularly new. He has been familiar with traveling all his life, as his father is a pilot and has always made an effort to expose his children to different parts of the world. Those places include Thailand, Bangladesh, Nepal, several countries in the Middle East, and Jigme’s personal favorite, Singapore.
“It’s a nice city. It’s very strict – you’re not even allowed to chew gum. But because of that it’s also very clean. It’s a happening place to be.”
His siblings also have inherited the traveling itch and have become scattered around the globe. Jigme came to America for the first time this summer with his brother, who now lives in
Washington D.C. and hopes to move to Florida in the future. He has two older sisters, one of whom did her studying in the U.K., and the other at Wellesley College here in the U.S. His younger sister has yet to leave home, but when she does, Jigme hopes she will come experience life in America with him.
That life in America is one that holds a vast array of differences from the way things operate back in Bhutan. One of the defining features is an ideology called “cross national happiness,” which focuses on balancing economic growth along with social development, environmental sustainability, and cultural preservation. When all of these areas are given the necessary attention, happiness will follow.
Jigme, along with the other citizens in Bhutan, was taught about environmental conservation at a very young age. When the importance of this is stressed so early on in development, children grow up learning to care about something bigger than themselves and how they can contribute to the overall well-being of the land on which they live. They are given a sense of purpose, and with that, comes happiness.
However there is a detail within all of this that is too crucial to overlook. Since Bhutan’s economy relies heavily on agriculture, there is not the same overwhelming amount of income like in westernized countries that utilize big business. Bringing in just $2 billion nationally, Bhutan is actually considered to be one of the poorest countries in the world. How can that be? That the poorest can also be the happiest? The answer: priorities.
“We believe that prosperity should be measured by happiness, not by income,” stated Jigme. “We focus on keeping our own culture alive, and because of that, everything is exactly the way it should be.”
And if prosperity is measured by happiness, it is safe to say that Jigme has already done a great deal of prospering in his short 19 years. Upon meeting him, there is an undeniable sense of comfort. He is relaxed, collected, and not rushed. He speaks slowly and eloquently, taking his time to make sure he gives a thoughtful response. And while he doesn’t consider himself particularly outgoing, one of his best friends, Kenny Walton, believes otherwise.
“He really opens up once he feels comfortable,” said Walton. “He is always eager to learn and isn’t afraid to ask questions.”
Kenny and Jigme met during their first semester at Springfield, and have been inseparable ever since. They do almost everything together, and when they were forced to spend time apart over winter break, there were several messages exchanged and FaceTime calls in order to stay in touch. Over time, that friendship blossomed into a brotherhood.
“I consider Jigme more like my adopted brother,” Walton said. “We’ve had stronger and weaker points just like any friendship, but even in the low times he was always there to listen and give insight to the best of his ability.”
“Sure he’s a pain, but he’s a pain that sticks and I’ll never get fed up with him,” replied Jigme. “I don’t think college would be the same if I didn’t have a friend like Kenny.”
It is comments like those that show the multiple layers of Jigme’s personality. Because while he is soft-spoken and thoughtful, at the same time he also has quite the quirky sense of humor.
He loves taking an Uber to the movies and says that he and his driver “always become the best of friends.” On one fateful Uber ride, Jigme’s driver offered him a Girl Scout cookie. He had never had one before, and in his usual spirit of trying new things, he accepted it.
From that moment on, his life was forever changed.
“It was the best cookie I’ve ever had,” he laughed. “From now on I’m going to stand outside all of the malls and wait for the Girl Scouts to come – that’ll be my first priority.”
But that wasn’t the only comical experience Jigme had while learning a new culture. At the school he went to in India, students dressed in their best attire and always made sure to look presentable. So naturally, on his first day here at Springfield, Jigme put on a nice pair of pants and a formal button down and headed to class, looking dapper and feeling just the same. But when he opened the door, he was surprised to see that he was the only student not slumming it in the typical Springfield attire of t-shirts and sweatpants. He later adapted to this less formal and more laid-back style, and has come to appreciate the art that is dressing for comfort.
And while exploring the various facets of the American culture may seem overwhelming to some, especially during the transition into adulthood, Jigme chooses to take things one day, one step, one minute at a time.
“I don’t think of my life as ‘what’s going to happen next’ – I just see how it goes and live in the moment.”