[W]hat makes it well and truly twisted is that the Bhutanese government pursues these policies and practices explicitly in order to promote the appearance of happiness. According to the government, happiness is a characteristic of the Bhutanese. Any form of dissent or apparent unhappiness is unpatriotic and intolerable. (Why do you think they’re deporting their own citizens by the thousands? They were endangering the national happiness, so they had to go.)
It’s fashionable in the west for us to talk about Bhutan as if it’s this nation of jolly savages: sure, they might not have an economy, but they’re happier than we are! And isn’t that swell? Isn’t it great how they’ve subverted western notions of commercial happiness? Hooray!
The actual picture is much, much bleaker. Bhutan is a nation without human rights, with a government who actively works to subvert human dignity. The Bhutanese people might be smiling, but it’s largely because their government has installed fish hooks in their cheeks.
This entire happiness obsession amounts to an especially successful gambit. By emphasizing happiness (defined on the government’s terms), the Bhutanese government distracts us from everything that’s wrong with their country: the non-existent economy, the absence of human rights, the flagrant violations of UN resolutions about the rights of citizens and refugees, and the despotic government in charge of it all.