Imagine dedicating a whole year to doing things that make you Happy. Going wherever your instincts lead you, being around people that make you feel good, trying new things that get you excited. That’s exactly how I chose to live this past year, and it’s been an incredible ride! The last time I did something like this was right before I went to Miss Universe after winning Miss Canada. It’s been a while and I felt like it was time to reconnect with myself and find my Happiness.
I kicked off my journey by attending AFest, a conference with Ted Talk speakers and best selling authors in Ibiza, then made my way to Burning Man in California, participated in Tony Robbins Date with Destiny event in Florida, and then ended it with Sky Diving in Dubai! To say it was a joyful, happy year would be an understatement. I felt alive, recharged and ready to take on the world! Being in this blissful state I knew there was one more place I wanted to explore to get to the source of happiness… Bhutan, the Land of Happiness. I have wanted to visit Bhutan for over 10 years and nowfelt like the right moment.
Bhutan is a hidden gem tucked away in the Himalayan range between India and China. It’s a Buddhist Kingdom and is considered to be one of the happiest countries in the world. They even have a Gross National Happiness index that measures the quality of life of its citizens. After my week long trip I realized it’s not only the happiest place I have visited but also one of the most beautiful,fascinating cultures. You’re surrounded by breathtaking snow-capped mountains, exquisite hand carved buildings, prayer flags fluttering in the wind… and you’re sure to crack a smile from the funny roadside signs, hilarious stories about night hunting, painted phalluses on village homes…. and oh that killer Bhutanese humour.
As a TV presenter I have traveled around the world and have met fascinating people from celebrities, to world-class athletes to spiritual leaders, but this trip was incredibly special. I shared this adventure with people I truly love, my sister and closest friend. We not only had the privilege of meeting His Majesty the King, we also organized an itinerary that would make national geographic envious! It ended up being a trip of a lifetime beyond anything I could have imagined. I left Bhutan with spiritual encounters with monks, a sacred blessing for love, visited ancient monasteries, trekked to the top of Tigers Nest monastery (10,000 feet above sea level) and had my perceptions completely challenged. I thought Bhutan would be a conservative country, it was refreshing to learn it is an accepting, fun-loving culture that truly values the happiness of its people.
Gross National Happiness
The views flying into Paro, one of the most dangerous airports in the world were mesmerizing! We were surrounded by 16,000 feet Himalayan peaks and had jaw-dropping views from the cockpit of Mount Everest and the snow-capped Himalayan range. You have to see it to believe it… the videos will take your breath away! The flight alone makes you smile ear to ear, no wonder they are so happy I thought. Our first encounter was with our guide Ugyen. A cheerful man who cracked us up with his stories about night hunting and dating in Bhutan. During one of our treks in Thimphu I shot a video with him about Gross National Happiness (GNH). He shared that it was introduced by the 4th King of Bhutan, King Jigme Singye Wangchuckand is the guiding development principle in Bhutan. Ugyen feels that ‘GNH is more important than gross national product’ and that ‘you can measure it by seeing it on the face and smiles of people’. He observed my face and said that I looked pretty happy. I took the compliment and continued to trek up the steep hill, huffing and puffing as I battled the altitude.
Monks & Wisdom
I had the privilege of meeting the Dalai Lama twice in my life. The first time I was during a press interview during my time at CNN International. The second was with a private audience in Toronto where he spoke about faith and oneness. I was intrigued about Buddhism and wanted to learn more, but I never imagined that years later I would be in Bhutan sitting with Monks discussing Meditation, Buddhism and Happiness. One of the highlights of the trip was meeting master Karchung a monk who meditated in a cave for 6 years and is now committed to being one of the happiest people on earth. He invited us to his home for coffee and shared his thoughts on happiness. He radiated pure love and joy and gifted us with some precious pearls of wisdom “don’t judge the other, only judge yourself’ he also gave us a simple yet profound exercise “for 5 minutes each day practice making the other person right. Even if they harmed you, it happened for a reason, practice they are right in what they did and just be’. I must admit this is really hard to do but I appreciate his deep wisdom of letting go and surrendering to things you can’t control.
Adventures in Punakha
I’m in love with Punakha, a picturesque small town with incredible natural beauty that is virtually untouched by tourism. We went white water rafting (singing Bollywood songs all the way down the river). walked across the longest suspension bridge brimming with prayer flags, and cycled through steep hills and charming villages.
We visited Punakha Dzong, one of Bhutan’s oldest and most beautiful Dzong’s wearing traditional Kira dresses and high heels! We climbed up steep ladders and walked across cobble stone alleys in style (and with sore feet), all which was well worth it as soon after we had the opportunity to meet His Majesty the King. It’s easy to see why he is admired and revered by his people, his humility and kindness is truly inspiring. Everyone I met in Bhutan was wearing pins of the King to show their love and respect for him, it was endearing. I admit that after meeting him I got a few pins and proudly wore them during the rest of the trip.
We visited the Chimi Lhakhang ‘Divine Madman Temple’. We trekked through rice paddy fields to get there and along the way were shocked to see colourful paintings of phalluses on the village homes (you got to see it to believe it). Our guide told us that at the monastery we would get blessed with a wooden phallus on our head! At first we though this was hilarious, three women with lots of inside jokes and laughter…but our attitude changed after we encountered a father trekking through the fields with his newborn. We learned that he and his wife had trouble conceiving a child and after a blessing from the temple they had their first born. With his 2 day old baby in his arms, he was on his way to the temple to give gratitude to the monk and receive a name for his son. It was beautiful. This is considered a temple for fertility and a sacred experience for many.
Lessons on Happiness
On my last day in Bhutan I tied a prayer flag at the top of mountain and watched it flutter in the wind with my deepest wishes in them. There are so many reasons that make this country special and a culture we can learn so much from. To say I ended my year of ‘happy experiences’ with a bang is an understatement. Bhutan was the perfect way to solidify all that I learned. I made a list of why I believe it’s such a happy place: The simplicityof the culture and people tops it. We somehow have lost this in fast bustling cities. During my trip I saw kids playing on the streets, people genuinely connecting and not consumed by their phones, the food was organic and fresh, and the locals were kind and humble. There’s no question that being surrounded by naturealso makes for a happy disposition. Fresh air, majestic mountains, respect for the land, and little pollution makes Bhutan feel like paradise. I also noticed that humouris a big part of the culture. Funny roadside signs, loads of jokes and pranks, I laughed so much on this trip! And finally being surrounded by arteverywhere is inspiring. The charming homes are hand carved, the traditional Kira dresses are colorful and elegant, and artists consider paintings spiritual.
I left Bhutan with pure joy and happiness in my heart. I am truly grateful to have experienced the Kingdom of Happiness and for this magical journey. As we all go on our own journey to find happiness, a beautiful experience like this can help us reconnect with ourselves and remind us that it’s the simple things in life that bring the greatest joy, and that everything we seek outside is already inside of us. Peace. Joy. Love. Happiness.