24 feb 2013

Sunday's tale - A portrait of happiness: Balloons of Bhutan by Jonathan Harris

Sunday's Tale: a post from the past
In Bhutan happiness is, no laughing, matter-academics study it, spreadsheets track it, billboards tout it, conferences debate it, and every year, foreign intellectuals flock to Thimphu to share their ideas about what exactly makes a person happy.
Instead of "Gross National Product" Bhutan uses "Gross National Happiness" to measure it socio-economic prosperity, essentially organizing its national agenda around the basic tenets of Buddhism. Bhutan's fourth king, Jigme Singe Wangchuck, invented the idea in 1972, to give his tiny country some international guard against potential future invasion by its two mighty neighbors (India and Chine).

Given the seriousness with which this topic is treated, Jonathan Harris thought it would be fun to do something a little be silly, so in late 2007, he spent two weeks in Bhutan, handing out baloons. He asked people 5 questions pertaining to happiness: what make them happy, what is their happiest memory, what is their favorite 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, he inflated that number of balloons, so very happy people would be given 10 balloons and very sad people would be given only one (but hey, it's still a balloon).
They wrote each person's wish onto a balloon of their favorite color. He repeated this process for 117 different people, from all different ages and backgrounds. On the find night, all 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 thousand of stands of prayer flags..

Jonathan Harris is an artist and storyteller, he makes projects that reimagine how humans relate to technology and to each other. Combining elements of computer science, anthropology, visual art and storytelling, his projects range from building the world’s largest time capsule (with Yahoo!) to documenting an Alaskan Eskimo whale hunt on the Arctic Ocean.

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Photo credit © J. Harris



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